“It’s hard to do more than 70 or 80 concerts a year with all new pieces,” Richards said. McFarland wanted to move to Colorado, where his partner lived, and Streisfeld wanted to stop traveling so much and take a steadier teaching position.
They left the group in 2016, and while Otto and Richards were committed to keeping JACK going, it was, Richards recalled, “surprisingly hard to discover people who wanted to throw their whole lives into it.” But Campbell and Wulliman, both well regarded in the cozy contemporary-music community, fit the bill.
“I had been playing in professional new-music ensembles in Chicago,” Wulliman recalled. “But to sit down with these guys to read through ‘Tetras’ — whoa, I have never, ever, ever experienced anything like that. Being able to just get through something that easily. The ease of the music moving forward.”
The JACK is not one of those businesslike quartets that travels separately and meets up just for soundchecks and performances. “I still like spending time with them,” Wulliman said. They go on hikes and search out new restaurants together on tour — and, when road trips are involved, always sit in the same configuration in the car, with Richards at the wheel.
The four have mock fights about things like whether they should play Ralph Shapey’s astringent music. (“I’m dying to do Shapey,” Otto said; “I’d rather die,” said Wulliman.) But when they’re rehearsing, they speak in genial fragments, completing one another’s sentences and doing much more playing than debating.
Going through an arrangement of a piece by the 16th-century composer Nicola Vicentino, Otto, who was doing a harsh, very contemporary-sounding bow stroke, asked, “Does it feel over the top with the sweeping stuff?”