Heading: for string quartet
3 March 1992
The Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
The Balanescu Quartet
Recording: Chalk can be found on the release, six
Chalk put its basic material to vigorous, complex and harmonically driven use (Beethoven encountering Stravinsky)—a little more surface signposting and this sharp-minded composer, belying a glitzy reputation, might reinvent the Classical style.—The Independent
Chalk was tautly expressive, evoking the gritty coolness suggested in its title. —The New York Times
It's a witty reflection not only of the competing elements of classical music, but also of the conflicting sides in our own natures. —The Washington Post
When I see the chalky smoke of rosin rising from the bridges of stringed instruments due to the intensity of the player’s bow strokes, that white residue becomes a symbol, a kind of shadow of life felt and lived without apology or restraint. If for me a certain lack of respect is necessary to create something new (respect breeds imitation; respect fosters timidity and subordination), then I welcome and expect a fearlessness and a disregard for convention in the performance of this piece. Because of the kind of writing I impose upon the players—the discipline of stamping quarters in the cello writing and the tightly interlocking eighths in the higher strings—the musicians might play mechanically or with timid precision. Instead, I challenge groups to approach my piece with furious abandon, throwing their bows across the stings with passion and attack. I invite groups to almost wage war on the compositional severity I have used in the piece.
In the age of quantized, sampled sound, stringed instruments become the most unmechancial of instruments. They become, after the human voice, the most direct expression of emotion and freedom. The remaining feeling after the “smoke” of a performance of Chalk is, I hope, a reminding nudge of life itself, or at least the possible rewards that come with life lived without restraint.