Composers introducing their work to Maverick Concerts audiences are not something new. In the past, such classical luminaries as Henry Cowell, Robert Starer, Peter Schickele, Joan Tower and George Tsontakis have all spoken at the Maverick. They have all been internationally known musicians who lived nearby. On July 8, though, composer Gerard McBurney comes all the way from Chicago to introduce the performance – by the debuting Spektral Quartet – of his String Quartet No. 1, composed in 1996 but only now receiving its world première. And that’s recent, compared to its source material: the works of Hildegard von Bingen, the great 12th-century mystic nun.
Before coming to America from his native England, McBurney produced numerous documentaries for British and German television. In the early 1990s, he was commissioned to do a German TV program on Hildegard. A young Swiss singer performed three of the Sequences, for which Hildegard had created both words and music. McBurney was greatly taken with them. He played them for a member of the well-known new-music ensemble Kronos, who asked him to arrange them for string quartet. “So that’s what I did,” he writes. “I arranged them in an order which reflects a certain drama. The opening one is an Easter hymn of gratitude to the Virgin Mary, comparing her to a flower. The second one is a dramatic lament for the disaster of the Fall. And the third one is a vision of the whole cosmos with all the stars.”
Kronos became so busy that it never got around to playing McBurney’s complete quartet, although there were performances of two of the movements. “So this piece, which is one of my own pieces which I love the most, has never been performed as I intended, and a performance at the Maverick would be a world première.”
Maverick Concerts, in their landmark home in the woods, take place two or three times every weekend throughout the summer. The Spektral Quartet concert program also includes music by Augusta Read Thomas, Philip Glass and Maurice Ravel. Spektral is one of 11 string quartet ensembles performing this summer. Other programs are as diverse as jazz trios and an Indian flute concert.