In the dark, JACK Quartet comes out to play

The lights will dim and the room will go black—pitch black. Audience members will squirm in their seats, surrounded by darkness they won’t be able to escape.

Then the music will begin.

The Ensemble Music Society is bringing in the JACK Quartet, one of the nation’s top contemporary string quartets.

The JACK Quartet will perform two concerts while in Indianapolis—one tonight at the Big Car Service Center and another tomorrow at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The ensemble’s four members met while studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.. They began playing concerts together while at school.

The JACK Quartet’s members are world travelers and have performed in London, Germany, France and throughout the United States.

Their first Indianapolis concert will feature Georg Friedrich Haas’ Quartet No. 3, “In iij. Noct.” The composer himself instructed the piece to be played in complete darkness.

The piece comes partly from  Holy Week services, during which churches would extinguish all  lights and go dark.

Still, the piece is based on life inside a monastery and is not specifically a religious work.

Ari Streisfeld, a violinist for JACK Quartet, said it is truly an experience to play when it is pitch black in the room.

“It’s difficult to completely black out a space because we live in a world of light,” Streisfeld said.

“The darkness eliminates all distractions like looking at your program, watching what someone else is doing or what they’re wearing,” said John Failey, Ensemble Music Society president.  “It’s more of a meditative and contemplation work.”

The piece has 18 different sections, each including specific instructions from the composer about improvisation for that section.

Each musician will sit in a separate corner of the room to perform the piece. In essence, they will send signals to each other through music.

Streisfeld likened the concert to being in a bat cave. It’s so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you and you have to rely on sounds to commuincate with one another.

The second performance will be a full-length concert featuring the works of Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Xenakis, three postwar composers.

The group’s most-requested work is Iannis Xenakis’  “Tetras,” a modern string quartet piece that challenges the classic sound audiences expect to hear from a string quartet.

“Tetras” is a quartet that sounds different than you’ll ever hear,” Streisfeld said. “It’s a 15 to 16 minute piece that is pure energy.”

“Tetras” will be the closing work for the JACK Quartet’s concert at the IMA.

“I would give it a musical comparison to Jimi Hendricks’ ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ without the feedback,” Failey said. “It’s unlike anything anyone has heard on a stringed instrument before.”

The JACK Quartet has been through Indianapolis a couple of times, but its members are excited to bring in modern pieces that aren’t played frequently.

“Both concerts are really exciting,” Streisfeld said. “Coming to Indy to play them is an amazing experience in itself.”

Centered around the themes of darkness and rebirth, the two concerts flow together very well.

The IMA concert marks the three-year collaboration between the IMA and the Ensemble Music Society to bring in concerts dealing with modern music.

“All of these works on the program are things that are radically different from any notion that anybody has on what classical music is about,” Failey said. “It’s challenging and exciting and intense.”

Tickets are on sale for both concerts at the Ensemble Music Society website,

Tickets are $20 for tonight’s concert, and student tickets are $5 at the IMA concert tomorrow.

In brief:


Big Car Service Center 

 (3819 Lafayette Road) 

7:30 p.m.


Indianapolis Museum of Art 

(4000 Michigan Road)

7:30 p.m.


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