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