String Quartet No. 2 (2013, rev. 2019)
Composed April - May 2013, revised August 2019
Music journalists love to “discover” the next great composer, a tradition extending back to the origins of modern classical criticism. The composer Robert Schumann edited a periodical in which he hailed contemporaries as geniuses or critiqued their work as misguided, and among his more memorable articles was a notice that Johannes Brahms – twenty years old at the time – would be the Messiah of composition. (Brahms would take decades to write a symphony, having internalized this sort of advance praise as a burden.) Quinn Mason (b. 1996) knows all about this early-career buzz, which has surrounded him for years. In 2020, Texas Monthly speculated that he could be “classical music’s next superstar,” and Mason has so far given the world little reason to doubt it. The Dallas native reveals three key things about himself in the interview in question: first, he holds Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score The Rite of Spring in especially high regard; second, he has written reams of music with no particular plan for performance, and many pieces still await their debuts; and third, he loves working with dancers. These things all factor into his String Quartet no. 2, on offer tonight.
Mason wrote this Quartet in 2013, a century after the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. While Mason’s work lacks the confrontational attitude of the Rite, it clearly springs from a shared enchantment with the power of rhythm and repetition to lure listeners into states of expectation – the better to surprise them. Stravinsky, depicting routine violence in a pre-modern village, needed great flinty walls of orchestral sound; Mason, writing for no outlet in particular, allows his four string players to float. The American composer Aaron Copland, to whom journalists often compare Mason, wrote ballet music with a similar combination of wide-eyed enthusiasm and inobtrusive complexity. Enter Katie Cooper, the choreographer behind the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s Avant Chamber Ballet, who approached Mason for a dance score only to learn that he had suitable material tucked away already. The result of their conversations: the 2019 version of this Quartet, which marries the abstraction of chamber music with danceability, even in the slow third movement. You may want to get up and groove to a string quartet for the first time; Mason, who also produces electronic dance beats, would surely smile to see it.
-Sarasota Orchestra (2021)