Golden Hornet’s String Quartet Smackdown IV

In this “hoot” of a competition, every one of the 16 compositions was a gem, but only one was voted the champion

The 2018 bracket breakdown of the Smackdown

NCAA basketball's March Madness might be a month away, but fans of classical music got the intense tournament experience in a single night at Golden Hornet's fourth annual String Quartet Smackdown. The Smackdown pits new compositions against one another in a competition that parallels the "Road to the Final Four." Divided into brackets, compositions engaged in head-to-head live musical battles where the winner moved on to the next round until we got to a final showdown – or smackdown – and a tournament winner was crowned.

Two hundred entries from all around the world were whittled down to 16 works, so we began at the round aptly named the Suite 16 (okay, "Sweet"), in which the audience heard a performance of the first minute of two competing compositions. Then the audience voted for their favorite, and the winner moved on to the next round, where compositions got two-minute airings and we voted again, until we were left with two finalists. When the final pair faced off, we heard the entire four-minute piece of music, voted for a winner, and debated the outcome as fans do.

Adding to the tension, votes were tallied on a huge projection screen, so the audience got to see the results tabulated in real time. Sometimes the outcomes were foregone conclusions with one piece outscoring its rival, say, 100 votes to 50. Other times, the voting was so close, the audience gasped as the results swung one way then the other. The final pairing pitted Mexico's Dario Gonzalez Valderrama ("To Find a Voice") against New York's Paul Wiancko ("Lift"). In a raucous, seesawing final tally, Wiancko's piece emerged victorious by a mere three votes.

Did it deserve to win? Well, yes, the listeners gave it their votes (just). This reviewer would argue "Lift" was the safer choice, a deft piece with a soft rock core and comfortable consistency culminating in a pleasing flourish, whereas "To Find a Voice" reveled in moody atmospheric explorations, sections of plaintive bowing interspersed with pulsating plucked passages, weaving the dark and somber with a melodic playfulness in a more emotive, challenging composition. But, hey, sometimes the bow bounces a different direction.

All the compositions offered plenty to consider, and between bouts the audience duly reviewed the merits of each matchup's winner. Co-emcee Peter Stopschinski couldn't help admiring the "saucy dissonances" on aural display; his co-anchor, Golden Hornet Artistic Director Graham Reynolds, banged on his Chinese gong to bring each minutes-long performance to a stop. The entire evening was, as one longtime Smackdown fan called it, "a hoot."

The 16 compositions were lovingly performed by local string quartet invoke: violinists Nick Montopoli and Zachariah Matteson, violist Karl Mitze, and cellist Geoff Manyin. Considering the quartet had to learn 64 minutes of music of which they only performed 30, theirs was a herculean task and one they conquered with aplomb. Thankfully, invoke will make full recordings of all 16 finalists, every one a gem, but only one the 2018 champion.

String Quartet Smackdown IV

Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar
Feb. 10

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Golden Hornet
Vote for New Music in Golden Hornet's String Quartet Smackdown VII
Vote for New Music in Golden Hornet's String Quartet Smackdown VII
For the seventh year, Golden Hornet referees this composition competition while you decide the winner

Robert Faires, March 26, 2021

More Arts Reviews
Hyde Park’s <i>My H-E-B</i> Shows Humanity, Explored
Hyde Park’s My H-E-B Shows Humanity, Explored
Like the store, in this work the people matter

Cat McCarrey, June 14, 2024

Review: “Flatland Revisited” at Lydia Street Gallery
Review: “Flatland Revisited” at Lydia Street Gallery
Dreaming young girls and reimagined worlds run rampant in new solo exhibit

Meher Qazilbash, June 14, 2024

More by Robi Polgar
<i>National Geographic: Symphony for Our World</i>
National Geographic: Symphony for Our World
The breathtaking natural history footage combined with live symphonic performance sent a noble message: Save the Earth

Aug. 3, 2018

Review: 2018 Austin Chamber Music Festival
Review: 2018 Austin Chamber Music Festival
How the Attacca Quartet, Emerson Quartet, and invoke played

July 17, 2018


Golden Hornet, String Quartet Smackdown, Graham Reynolds, Peter Stopschinski, Dario Gonzalez Valderrama, Paul Wiancko

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle