Finally! The full Feldman ‘String Quartet No. 2’ | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Finally! The full Feldman ‘String Quartet No. 2’

The score’s pages — with composer Feldman’s handwriting — for the six-hour piece, before the musicians started, above, and after they finished, below.  Photos by Bob Krasner

The score’s pages — with composer Feldman’s handwriting — for the six-hour piece, before the musicians started, above, and after they finished, below. Photos by Bob Krasner


BY BOB KRASNER  |  
There are a lot of things that you could do during six hours of a beautiful Saturday afternoon in New York. This writer chose to spend the time from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. planted firmly a few feet away from the Flux Quartet, which managed once again to perform, beautifully, the entirety of Morton Feldman’s “String Quartet No. 2,” without a break, bathroom or otherwise.

This work was first performed by Flux at Cooper Union in 1999. (Tom Chiu remains the only original member from that time.) Back then, I was able to experience only a half hour of the opus. 

The scene then was somewhat surreal. I had entered around the four-hour mark and the 860-seat hall was more than half empty. The quartet was seated on a large stage, slowly moving their arms and bows back and forth, producing a strangely beautiful sound. 

The ushers had stopped bothering to ask for tickets, and concertgoers were spread out everywhere — some seated, some lying on the floor, some eating pizza, some sleeping. Many had brought along crossword puzzles and books. 

Ever since the moment that I reluctantly left that hall, I have been waiting for the chance to see Feldman’s “String Quartet No. 2” performed again.

Although I have heard the entire piece on CD, and had a taste of the live performance, I was still unprepared for the experience that awaited me at the Park Ave. Armory on a recent Saturday. 

The venue this time was much smaller, holding about 140 people, who were seated around the quartet, with no stage. I had come well prepared with snacks, water, a book and The New York Times crossword, but I could have left everything but the water at home. 

There were a few concertgoers who made use of their reading

The Flux Quartet midway through their recent performance of Morton Feldman’s marathon “String Quartet No. 2” at the Park Ave. Armory.

The Flux Quartet midway through their recent performance of Morton Feldman’s marathon “String Quartet No. 2” at the Park Ave. Armory.

material, but there was no way that I could have opened my book. From the start, the music transfixed me in an almost indescribable way. I know that I was present for the duration of the five-hour-and-45-minute performance, but it hardly feels like I was there for so many hours. 

I looked at my phone every once in a while and noted how much time was left. I sent out a text that read, “Three and a half hours to go!” 

I remember looking around at the others, half of whom actually stayed for the duration, and noting the way the window light was hitting their faces, until it was gone. 

I remember quietly slipping out to go the restroom about halfway through and stopping to take a photo of the musicians with my iPhone from outside the room. 

But other than that, my recall is like that of a dream, where you remember the feeling sometimes more than the actual events. 

There was one moment, however, that remains crystal clear: the very end, a moment of stunning silence, during which the players held their bows still and the whole room seemed to hold its collective breath. It was followed by a thunderous and very well-deserved standing ovation.

Morton Feldman’s “String Quartet No. 2,” by the Flux Quartet, is available on Mode Records.