I finally got to hear / see the Danish String Quartet live a couple weeks ago. They played Beethoven and Bartok, music which they play very well, but I wouldn’t care if I heard them play the canon ever again. The deep spiritual core of the DSQ’s repertoire is their set of Scandinavian folk music arrangements.
How to describe these pieces? They are fiddle tunes that would sound familiar to anyone with an interest in Scottish reels or American bluegrass. They are fashioned into forms full of variety, spontaneity, and verve that function, emotionally and intellectually, as real pieces of music.
The style of the arrangements draws from the Italian baroque, French impressionism, modern pop and film score music, contemporary indie rock, and old fashioned jug band music. It’s hard even to parse the influences because they are blended so seamlessly into a coherent style, which, were I to hazard a name for it, I would call Cosmopolitan String Folk. (This would be a great name for the group itself if they ever decided to ditch the whole Danish thing.)
The music is arranged by the members of the quartet themselves, and as far as I’m concerned, that makes these gentlemen the leading composer-performers of the current generation. They perform with finesse and subtlety, both live and in person. They’ve got enough twang to make you feel country, and enough polish to make you feel urbane.
It’s hard for me to express how much I love this music, but here’s a go at it: the Danish Quartet’s Scandinavian folk arrangements are my platonic ideal of what new concert music should be. It’s music that is deeply connected to an ancient tradition, and that draws from the best styles and tools available from the history of music. The textures spring forth from the instruments themselves, and the music has been crafted by the hands of the performers.
I know the DSQ will continue to play Beethoven and AdÃ¨s and Haydn, but if they ever give it up and just play full shows of the Scandinavian folk music, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket.