Cypress Quartet finding a second home at Montalvo

Mercury News
By Richard Scheinin
Article Launched: 04/27/2007 01:33:19 AM PDT

Wayne Horvitz thinks the best thing for a band - whether it's a rock band, a jazz band or a classical string quartet - is the chance to play over and over again in the same club, space or hall. To have an extended engagement, set up a residency and "call it home," he says.

"It's not just checking into one more hotel," he says. "They get to know the place. They know the acoustics. They know the people. They're comfortable and they look forward to it. And so does the audience - it's like going to see a baseball team. After a while, you get to know the personalities, the chemistry, the interaction." All this explains why Horvitz - the Seattle-based keyboardist and composer whose own music roams jazz, pop and classical - is helping to bring the Cypress String Quartet to the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga for eight performances next season.

And, if all goes as planned, there'll be more performances the season after, and maybe the one after that, too, says Horvitz, who lately has taken on a new gig as a curator of music programming at Montalvo. Cypress is well-known in the Bay Area and beyond. It's based in San Francisco and for the past several years has been in residence at San Jose State University. The blitz of Montalvo performances - exploring Beethoven's late string quartets and works by living composers, all in an informal salon setting - is "kind of taking us back to our roots," says Tom Stone, one of the quartet's violinists.

When the group formed a decade or so ago, it played over and over at a coffee house in San Rafael and at the Berkeley Art Center, another small venue. "It's how we learned to learn repertoire fast and became a quartet," Stone says. "But then our touring picked up and we haven't undertaken anything like this since."

The Montalvo concerts, beginning in October, will happen in the Main Hall of the arts complex's villa, with space for only 100 or so listeners. They will have a chance to talk with the players during each performance; Stone likens the format to "a book club meeting" with lots of conversation about the music, an informal give-and-take. The Cypress will play excerpts to illustrate various points and then will perform the pieces from start to finish. Actually, the eight performances will be broken into two series. One, on Sundays, will bore into the late Beethoven quartets, one of the great pinnacles of all music. A mid-week series will explore music of living composers who have written for the Cypress, including Elena Ruehr, Dan Coleman and George Tsontakis. They will attend the concerts and join in the conversation, so the audience "will get to see how composers think," Stone says. "And I think it'll give people a sense that there's really great music being written today."

The goal is to both demystify music and intensify the musical experience. Horvitz imagines the composers some day even living for a time at Montalvo, which has a well-established artists' residency program, and wonders if Montalvo and Cypress might co-commission works from additional composers. And then he sees Montalvo replicating the entire scenario with other ensembles.

"We want to be an institution where art gets developed," he says, "not just performed."

Cypress String Quartet
Mercury News
Where: Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga
When: Oct. 18 through May 4, 2008
Tickets: $30; subscriptions (four concerts), $100; (408)961-5858,