Caspar Frankford reviews the Elliot Galvin and Stakla Quartet concert which took place at the Holywell Music Room on June 19th 2019
The minimalist repertoire of the Stakla Quartet, who were supporting solo pianist Elliot Galvin, set the tone for an evening of innovative playing of contemporary music. Standing in a square, the group inventively reimagined Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 2 for four electric guitars, and provided an enjoyable insight into repertoire for an unusual ensemble of instruments. Most striking was a rendition of Wayne Siegel’s East L.A. Phase, in which a funky ostinato motif is passed around the quartet and melodic figures compete for attention in a bustling soundscape.
The quartet’s occupation of the middle of the Historic Holywell Music Room made the piano’s positioning near the far wall seem like a strange use of space. With the audience some distance from the performer, I thought the intimacy of a live concert might be diluted as the sound swirls around the Room’s lofty ceilings. But Elliot Galvin was engaging throughout the hour he sat, stood and swayed at the piano. Initially wrapping the listener in a warm sound world, building gently from the single note that started the piece to grander, fuller textures, Galvin produced six improvised pieces which themselves swayed between the calm and the dramatic. Waspish, wasp-like surges and rumbles in the piano’s middle and lower registers characterised the second improvisation, before the understated melody of the third piece, initially just for right hand, was joined by a slightly jaunty left-hand counterpoint. This third improvisation felt like a classical style piece as imagined by a jazz artist, with a peaceful, understated melody, oft unsettled by particularly discordant harmonies and rhythmic eccentricities, always seemingly a note away from the expected resolution until the piece’s wholesome final chordal sequence. Punctured quickly by clouds of sound that grew and diminished with the use of the pedal, the reflective atmosphere of the previous number gave way to the bassy, thunderous noise that grew in great rumbles up to its climax.
Just as I thought the alternation of a gentler piece with a more dramatic improvisation had started to become a bit predictable, Galvin stood and started muting the strings with one hand, moving his hand along the string to create a harmonic whilst hitting the key with his left, as well as plucking and strumming the strings: just as you thought you knew what was next Galvin demonstrated his inventiveness. These calls were responded to with surprisingly flowing melodies and harmonies that soothed the piquant timbres of the plucked strings in the piano’s higher registers. Concluding the concert was a more melodic, rhythmically variable piece that, after an hour-long exciting showcase of his technical virtuosity, was ended with an amusingly blunt plonk of a key, galvanising approving chuckles from those listening.