JACK Quartet II

Christopher Otto, violin
Austin Wulliman, violin
John Richards, viola
Jay Campbell, violoncello

Wednesday, March 06, 2024 at 7:30p, Recital Hall



ksvedati: ß

Gregory Rowland EVANS

Chorus II


one night



Jeffrey MARTIN

Mercy in a Pathless Land




Yellow Millet Dream

Qing XU



JACK Quartet Bio 

Hailed by The New York Times as “our leading new-music foursome”, the JACK Quartet is one of the most acclaimed, renowned, and respected groups performing today. JACK has maintained an unwavering commitment to their mission of performing and commissioning new works, giving voice to underheard composers, and cultivating an ever-greater sense of openness toward contemporary classical music. The quartet was selected as Musical America’s 2018 “Ensemble of the Year”, named to WQXR’s “19 for 19 Artists to Watch”, and awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant. 

Through intimate relationships with today’s most creative voices, JACK embraces close collaboration with the composers they perform, leading to a radical embodiment of the technical, musical, and emotional aspects of their work. The quartet has worked with artists such as Julia Wolfe, George Lewis, Chaya Czernowin, Helmut Lachenmann, Caroline Shaw, and Simon Steen-Andersen. JACK’s all-access initiative, JACK Studio, commissions a selection of artists each year, who will receive money, workshop time, mentorship, and resources to develop new work to be performed and recorded by the quartet. 

Committed to education, JACK is the Quartet in Residence at the Mannes School of Music, who host the JACK Frontiers Festival, a multi-faceted festival of contemporary music for string quartet. They also teach each summer at New Music on the Point, a contemporary chamber music festival in Vermont, and at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. JACK has long-standing relationships with the University of Iowa String Quartet Residency Program, where they teach and collaborate with students each fall and spring, as well as with the Lucerne Festival Academy, of which the four members are all alumni. Additionally, the quartet collaborates with young composers at schools including Columbia University, Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, and Stanford University. 

Comprising violinists Christopher Otto and Austin Wulliman, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell, JACK operates as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the performance, commissioning, and appreciation of new string quartet music. 

Program Notes & Bios

ksvedati is a Sanskrit word that means rustling or murmuring. This work is an exploration of new sound techniques through prepared instruments while attending great detail to the potential of large-scale form.

Gregory Rowland Evans is an award-winning composer and cellist. Evans attended the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in music composition at the University of Iowa.

The music of Gregory Rowland Evans has been performed throughout the United States and Canada with premieres scheduled in the UK, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland. Evans has been featured at summer festivals and workshops such as the Cortona Sessions for New Music, New Music on the Point, the New England Conservatory Summer Intensive for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP), and the Ensemble Dal Niente & DePaul Summer Institute for New Music, MIXTUR Festival, and precept.concept.percept. Gregory has also been mentored by composers outside of academia through private study and masterclasses including Trevor Bača, Ann Cleare, Hèctor Parra, Michael Finnissy, and Chaya Czernowin.

Chorus II is another entry in my Chorus series for string quartet that explore minute differences between multiple of the same or similar musical elements. Compared to the first entry, Chorus II is simpler harmonically and features a melodic middle section, while retaining the polyrhythmic pattern that the first Chorus entry was based on.

Sean Harken is a composer and bass-baritone vocalist from Iowa City, IA. He is in his third year of pursuing a B.M. in Voice Performance at the University of Iowa, where he studies composition with Jean-François Charles and voice with Stephen Swanson. He has previously studied composition with Ramin Roshandel.

“one night” is a collection of miniature character pieces that reflect a composer struggling with writer’s block. Each movement establishes a specific mood, from highlighting various aspects of the environment to focussing in on small motivic ideas. Very special thanks goes to the JACK Quartet for their performance.

A musician and composer from the Midwest, Alex Lenaers is a violinist, violist, and guitarist. Alex has worked with people like the JACK Quartet, Caroline Shaw, and Wynton Marsalis, and is a founding member of the New Third Space Ensemble. He is finishing his B.M degree in composition, studying with Jean-François Charles at the University of Iowa.

Montage is an exploration of how multiple instruments and musical ideas can combine to produce a unified sound world. Rather than using dialogue, so common in the string quartet genre, as a key formal element, this piece is about synchronized independence. At one moment, all of the players might pursue their own interests; at another moment two instruments join forces to work on one idea. Two sections, a molto furioso passage and a region of emphasis on natural harmonics, hint at the outcome of Montage: the players come together at last. Although they articulate three chords at the end, they still cannot quite bring themselves to align rhythmically.

Drawn to a style of expressive abstraction, composer Jeffrey Martin writes music that features exuberant chaos, dramatic gestures, and adventure in harmony and form. His work has been performed or read by ensembles including the Jack Quartet, Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Bergamot String Quartet, Strata Trio, Third Practice, and UMBC Symphony Orchestra, and features a diverse range of instrumentations, such as solo performers, orchestra, various ensembles, and electroacoustic music.

The Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti taught that “truth is a pathless land,” a saying intended to caution the listener against following gods and gurus. While composing this piece, I entered my own kind of pathless land. As in many of my recent works, I derived the piece’s materials from the names of the performers for whom it is written. However, working with the names of a quartet of players left me amidst dense chromatic weeds and thick quarter-tonal fog. I had to cut a new path. While cutting this path, I heard the “Kyrie” from Mozart’s Requiem crying “Lord have mercy!” Yet the need for mercy multiplied with each passing syllable…

 Thus, this piece is my prayer that we may find mercy to give amidst the tumultuous and the grotesque – not through belief, but through that light which shines within.

Kevin Swenson is a composer and performer from Yuba City, California. His recent work includes computer assisted compositions inspired by Pythagorean numerology, interactive electronics, and just intonation tuning. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in composition at the University of Iowa. In addition to his studies, he works as a teaching assistant in the department of rhetoric.

Nocturne started at the very end. The main melody, heard in full only once during the final moments, came years ago in a draft for an earlier string quartet. I was interested in the idea of writing a nocturne, a piece that feels like it’s rooted in dream-language. The melody fragments into harmonic shimmers before it’s ever fully stated, and the music keeps weaving in and out of somewhere we haven’t yet been. I have a love-hate relationship to sleep and the nighttime, and this piece is an exploration of those half-conscious, strange hours that feel outside of real life. Sleep always comes, and it’s the relief of finally hearing a melody in full.

Lucy Shirley’s works are polystylistic and playful, often focusing on personal experience and aspects of the human voice. Lucy's honors include a 2022 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, 2nd place in the 2021 UMKC Chamber Music Composition Competition, and a 2020 Mu Phi Epsilon National Undergraduate Research Award. She has attended the Norfolk New Music Workshop, June in Buffalo, Fresh Inc, Nief-Norf Summer Festival, and the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival. Lucy is currently pursuing her PhD in Music Composition at the University of Iowa.

"Yellow Millet Dream" is a classic fable in Chinese Taoist culture. Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals of Taoism, falls into a deep sleep while waiting for his yellow millet to simmer. In his dream, he experiences a range of life's highs and lows, from the pinnacle of officialdom to the depths of despair, only to awaken and realize it was all an illusion. While the yellow millet has yet to fully cook.

The music begins with pizzicato, imitating the sporadic raindrops of a gloomy day. As Lü enters his dream, the rhythm transforms from simple to intricate, and the pitch shifts from serene clarity to complexity and ambiguity. The composition ends with an unresolved melodic line, symbolizing the philosophical thinking: Is our perceived reality genuine, or just a figment of our imagination? And if our current experience is indeed a dream, would we choose to awaken? Would you feel lost if the dream ended?

Qing Xu received her bachelor’s degree in Music Composition from Shenyang Conservatory of Music, where her piano suite was nominated as finalist for the 8th Chinese Music Golden Bell Award. After graduation, she joined the keyboard department at the Northeastern Petroleum University in 2016, serving as a piano instructor and accompanist. She is currently in the MA program in composition at the University of Iowa.