Dynamic Vienna quartet embraces its passion at Voice of Music Festival

The quartet came into being in 2019, immediately embracing the basic components of chaos, as applied to the arts and other fields. 

 BEAUTIFUL MUSIC from the Chaos Quartet. (photo credit: ANDREJ GRILC)
BEAUTIFUL MUSIC from the Chaos Quartet.
(photo credit: ANDREJ GRILC)

Chaos is a pretty subversive-sounding moniker to go for, particularly in the generally more rarified climes of Western classical music. Even so, a Vienna-based string foursome of that very name is one of the star turns of the 2023 edition of the Voice of Music Festival at Kfar Blum in Upper Galilee (July 2-8).

That really is quite a banner to work under. It seems the unusual title comes from the learned musings of an Italian theologian.

“Sara was reading a book by Vito Mancuso. There he writes that chaos plus pathos equals logos,” notes Hungarian-German violinist Susanne Schäffer. The reader in question is Italian-born, Vienna-bred violist Sara Marzadori.

That is quite a weighty notion to ponder which, one would conclude, purports that if you combine a complete lack of order with acute sensitivity you end up with logos. According to ancient Greek philosophy, the latter suggests a multitude of ideas and seminal directions of thought ranging from the rationale that relates to the way the universe operates to the seemingly mundane concept of the word, although that can entail multifarious avenues of cerebral and emotional exploration.

Backtracking to the aforementioned state of cosmic disarray, in fact in Greek mythology chaos is anything but pandemonium. Rather it describes a state of void that preceded the creation of the universe.

That then makes much greater sense as the name of a classical music quartet and begets a mindset that can lead to all manner of wonderful creative outpourings.

“Sara was so inspired by what she read in that book that she came up with the name for the group,” Schäffer continues. “We read into it a little bit more and we found out that, in Greek mythology, everything comes out of chaos. It is basically the origin of all creation.”

The quartet came into being in 2019, immediately embracing the basic components of chaos, as applied to the arts and other fields.

In its credo, the group describes itself as combining “a highly refined ensemble culture and a fiery vitality with a passion for exploring experimental and improvisational approaches. With their affinity for embracing unpredictability and risk-taking, the ensemble’s members bring a unique dynamism and vibrancy to their playing featuring a whole universe of sounds.”

If that is anything to go by, they should duly set Kfar Blum on fire.

“Chaos is what you need to have order,” Schäffer says somewhat quizzically. “Without chaos, there is no order,” she observes something along the lines of the view that it is the cracks in a broken vessel that admit light.

What will the quartet play?

The quartet’s stints up North next week include performances of a broad sweep of works by Beethoven, Mozart, and 97-year-old Hungarian composer György Kurtág, as well as Bach, Shostakovich, and Mendelssohn. That’s a pretty impressive span of stylistic intent, all due to be rendered with 21st-century verve and dynamics and, no doubt, an abundance of vigor from the players.

As befitting such a youthful bunch – all four are around their late 20s – the members of the quartet, which also include Hungarian-born violinist Eszter Kruchió and Dutch cellist Bas Jongen, take a fresh and unfettered approach to the body of work at their disposal. In fact, they also make an effort to extend the breadth of material available to them and their fellow professionals.

We often tend to adopt a worshipful mindset when we go along to attend a classical music concert. But how many of us consider that works by the likes of Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven were once the hits of the day, albeit not always accessible to the rank and file. Bearing that in mind may help to keep matters in a healthier, more user-friendly perspective and, possibly, free us – to put it bluntly – to have a good time as the ensemble in question goes about its business, doing its utmost to convey current artistic sensibilities combined with polished musicianship,

I asked the violinist if it is important for her and her cohorts to keep us abreast of the efforts of modern writers while opening up our musical horizons for us. Do they place particular emphasis on presenting material that does not get much airing in the normal run of – marketing-powered – things?

“I think for us it is fundamental,” Schäffer says.

“In Mozart’s time, it was normal to play contemporary compositions. Nowadays it is fundamental for us, young groups, to play music that is written today.”

It is, she says, a two-way street that offers rewards for players as well as consumers.

“For us, it helps us to understand how a composer writes and, possibly sometimes, work together with them on a piece.”

That, naturally, is a benefit attached exclusively to the creations of writers who are still with us. As studious and dedicated a classical music conductor, vocalist, or instrumentalist may be, they can only listen to various renditions of a work by, say, Schumann, look for explanatory addenda the composer may have scribbled somewhere, and consult learned researchers in the field.

That, surely, goes a long way to providing the performer with insight into the composer’s intent. But there is nothing like going to the contemporary living source.

“We don’t like just playing classical music,” Schäffer adds. “Of course, we do like it, but we also like to experiment with contemporary composers.”

Marzadori is fully on board that train of pertinent thought: “We play everything but we also like to support the art that is nowadays,” she says. It is, she feels, partly about offering the public a sounding board for au courant vibes.

“As artists, I believe we should be a mirror of society. A good way to mirror it is by playing also contemporary music in the same ways as playing Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and all the others.”

That is a commendable line of thought and, basically, the only way to keep an art form alive and kicking is by keeping one’s fingers as close as possible to the throbbing pulse of ongoing creation. However, it is also a challenging approach when it comes to putting bums on seats. Schäffer says she and the other Chaos members are fully aware of that obstacle although, interestingly, she feels that it is more a matter of placating the technocrats than the people that actually shell out their hard-earned cash to purchase concert tickets.

“We have the feeling that the most concerns are coming from concert organizers rather than the audience.” The violinist believes music fans are more than happy to go to hear a program that features works by, for example, Handel, Chopin, and Brahms with something by 20th century envelope-pushing Austrian-Hungarian composer György Ligeti slotted in the program.

“The audience is usually quite open, and they like to discover new pieces.”

Still, particularly in rocky times (and, let’s face it, isn’t that generally the case?), we like to hang onto the familiar. Schäffer gets that.

“I understand that sometimes people become a bit scared if they don’t know something. That’s very human,” she chuckles.

“But, for us, the distinction is about bad music or good music, not when it was written.”

For tickets and more information about the Voice of Music Festival: www.kol-hamusica.org.il