Chamber Music In The Greene Space: The JACK Quartet The ensemble thrives on high-intensity repertoire, like Xenakis' exhilarating Tetras, and new music from the likes of Brooklyn-based Missy Mazzoli. The JACK Quartet plays both at WQXR's Greene Space.

The JACK Quartet thrives on high-intensity repertoire. Justin Bernhaut/Courtesy of the artists hide caption

toggle caption
Justin Bernhaut/Courtesy of the artists

Classics in Concert

Chamber Music In The Greene Space: The JACK QuartetWQXR radio

Chamber Music In The Greene Space: The JACK Quartet

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Skittering strings. Large, looping passages. Perfectly eerie little scenes. Such is the sonic landscape in which the JACK Quartet can frequently be found. Violinists Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld, violist John Pickford Richards and cellist Kevin McFarland met at the Eastman School of Music, where they were involved in the school's Ossia new music organization.

"We would put on crazy shows of some of the most intense repertoire out there," Streisfeld says, reminiscing about the group's early days. The members, selected out of Ossia to participate in a new music festival in Morelia, Mexico, soon connected with the German composer Helmut Lachenmann, who has served as a mentor for the group ever since. In 2009, the quartet received an ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for adventurous programming of contemporary music.

In addition to keeping up a regular performance schedule in the U.S. — and, this summer, in France, Austria and the U.K. — the quartet supports new composers and cultivates up-and-coming talent.

"Working with composers is one of the most exciting parts of what we do," Streisfeld says. "We try to find each composer's sound world and style so we can play their music the way they envisioned it."

Streisfeld cites Elliott Carter, Salvatore Sciarrino and John Zorn among the contemporary composers JACK has not yet worked with, but who have caught the quartet's eye.

For its performance in the Greene Space on Thursday, the JACK Quartet will run the gamut on the timeline, performing Death Valley Junction by contemporary Brooklyn-based composer Missy Mazzoli and Tetras by Iannis Xenaxis, as well as Streisfeld's own arrangements of three pieces by Carlo Gesualdo, a Renaissance composer who may be as well known for murdering his wife and her lover in 1590 as he was for his intensely experimental (for the time) madrigals.

"I always felt that, because of the tumultuous love life [Gesualdo] had, the music he wrote later in life is still in the late Renaissance style, but he kind of pushes it to a whole other level," Streisfeld says. "His use of chromatic harmony, the color of the text, is quite experimental. He still sounds strange to us today."

Streisfeld says the JACK Quartet sees a clear narrative arc from Gesualdo's Renaissance pieces to Mazzoli's contemporary ideas.

"We find it interesting to pair music by those early composers, writing without the rules of Western music in whatever way they felt like, against composers that are now creating new rules in what they write," he says.

"Too often, people go to classical concerts and expect to hear certain pieces and sounds" Streisfeld adds. "I want people to start going to concerts expecting to hear something new, something they've never heard before."


  • Mazzoli: Death Valley Junction
  • Gesualdo: Three Madrigals (arr: Streisfeld)
  • Zenakis: Tetras
[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Gurtman and Murtha Artist Management

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

Hear "America's First Lady of the Piano" explore the boundaries between classical music and jazz with host Marian McPartland in this 2004 episode.

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Dancers in "Stalactites," a video by Mark DeChiazza, based on Orpheus Unsung, a theater work composed by Steven Mackey, with Jason Treuting. Mark DeChiazza hide caption

toggle caption Mark DeChiazza

Orpheus Reborn With Dancers, Drums And Electric Guitar

A new video, featuring a score by Steven Mackey with Jason Treuting, retells the ancient tale of love, loss and the power of music.

Penguin Cafe performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 2, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Penguin Cafe

Penguin Cafe folds in sounds from around the world and throughout music history — Africa, Kraftwerk, Brazil and Franz Schubert.

Composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir revised her piece Aura especially for The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. David Holechek hide caption

toggle caption David Holechek

Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Volcanic Transmissions

As members of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet bow their vibraphones, brush their gongs and message their bass drums, the composer's evocative music oozes from blackness.

Ludovico Einaudi, performing live for KCRW. Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW hide caption

toggle caption Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW

Ludovico Einaudi, 'Petricor' (Live)


Watch the pianist and composer, joined by a full band, in a stunning live performance for KCRW.

Opera singer Joyce DiDonato created this video to go with her new album, In War and Peace: Harmony through Music. Warner Classics hide caption

toggle caption Warner Classics

In Chaotic Times, A Singer's Plea For Freedom

Opera star Joyce DiDonato does more than sing — she lends her voice to social causes. Watch her new video, a haunting depiction of a woman trapped in conflict.

Back To Top