Cantaloupe is the house label of Bang on a Can, the New York–based composers’ cooperative that has for several years now made some of the most adventurous music in that benighted city. The new disc offers three string quartets by Julia Wolfe, one of BOAC’s founding spirits, performed by three different ensembles. The quartets have names: Dig Deep, Four Marys and Early That Summer, and I am not qualified to tell you what they mean. The performing groups also have names: Ethel, the Cassatt String Quartet and the Lark Quartet.
Steve Reich is one of BOAC’s guiding lights; his music appears frequently at their famous “marathon” concerts — especially his early minimalist pieces. They provide much of the motive power for these short works of Wolfe, all three of which add up to a skimpy 36 minutes and 44 seconds. The quartets are outwardly alike: big, gritty blocks of still, repeated sonority. Perhaps I have erred in not listening with my amplifier turned up to 11, as the rubrics demand at live BOAC events; prolonged exposure to BOAC’s kick-ass music making can breed discomfort, as Alex Ross noted in a recent New Yorker piece. Still, I found (or think I found) a sense in the last work of moving toward a release, and not a moment too soon.