Premiere of Dominic McGonigal’s two string quartets, ‘In Conversation’ and ‘Mathilda’, 26th September 2018
Lumen URC church, in London’s Tavistock Place, speaks of welcome, of a different human approach to the creative spirit – it is a very different spiritual house, a place where the spirit can rest and breathe – signs of this spirit everywhere, from the small rainbow flag on the edge of the street-facing window, to the central oratory with its cone leading upwards to an imagined glimpse of the unseen divine, to the main hall, with its high, white uninterrupted walls, where we sat to listen to Dominic’s astonishing two String Quartets.
It was so appropriate that this evening was such a warm gathering of friends, and the air flashed with laughter and gentle, affectionate talk, the embrace of being human and living in and from music – our lives inevitably being sung between each other. The first quartet, In Conversation – performed by musicians with which the composer has had a long friendship, and who had originally commissioned the piece – was about the interactions, the workings out, that are the stuff of our living – and so communicated deeply to the audience’s everyday experience. Yet it suggested not only this talk between friends and loved ones, but also the soul talking to itself, struggling to work out its meaning: moments of dance contrasted with cries of longing – and this subtle emotional architecture made it very moving. It has the power to remain in our emotional imagination, and was played with insight and affection by the quartet.
The second quartet introduced us to the great art of Chärlötte Brökër, the soprano who took on the character of Mathilde, the composer Arnold Schoenberg’s first wife, who fell in love with a young artist Richard Gerstl and then rejected him, with tragic results. The quartet charted the stages of the relationship, and the struggling inner lives of the participants, with great power and compassion, making it feel more like a mini opera or a dramatic cantata, a very strong companion piece to Schoenberg’s own Second Quartet which was also allegedly sparked by the affair. Brökër’s haunting voice, which so movingly conveyed Mathilde’s vulnerability, longing, outcry, protest, and grief, inspired a deep emotional response in her hearers, and the quartet negotiated the challenging textures excitingly.
Huge thanks to all who made this occasion, among such a warm and friendly gathering of people, with such amazing artists, in this remarkable venue, so unforgettable. Thank you. Diolch.