Call & Response & Awesome Kids

San Francisco Classical Voice
By Janos Gereben
March 18, 2008

I'm glad to have the collaborative testimony of Classical Voice colleague Jeff Dunn in his review of the Cypress Quartet's "Call & Response" concert at Yerba Buena Center on Saturday, because I still find it difficult to believe what happened there.

Arriving at the Forum, I was taken aback by the sight of a full auditorium, full mostly with children. Not "youth" — children, of the 5th- and 6th-grade variety, in addition to a few high school students. Mostly kids, little ones.

Even somebody not of W.C. Field's disposition couldn't help wondering: What will they do? What will they do during the performance of the last quartets by Haydn (No. 77) and Bartók (No. 6), and the premiere of Kurt Rohde's Gravities? Will they fidget, shuffle, cough, sneeze, whisper, slap, kick, text, or just make cellphone calls outright? If they get through the Haydn, what will they do during 35 minutes of the darkest, heaviest, most sorrowful of all Bartók, a Transfigured Night on steroids and without transfiguration?

The kids (and accompanying or independent adults) were spectacularly quiet during the Haydn, there was some coughing during the Rohde (a stunning work, instant classic, but Bartók-like "heavy") — and that wasn't the story. During the Bartók — that Bartók, the one with each movement opening mesto (sadly) and going downhill from there — there wasn't a sound from the audience, not one. From the Franz Liszt Academy to Carnegie Hall, I heard this work, always with some "ambient sound" from the audience; at Yerba Buena, there was only listening, zero sound emission. It was uncanny, spooky, impossible.

Cypress' rich outreach programs, the schools' teachers, parents — all should be recognized, but the heroes of this story are the 11- and 12-year-olds (some looking "young for their age") who listened to Bartók's angst without a peep. (And I still think such a demanding, difficult, full-blown concert is not really appropriate for such an audience, results notwithstanding.)

To make sure the children were not Conservatory students of short stature, I surveyed them during the intermission, verified the information with Cypress outreach coordinator Lindsay Jones, and here is a partial honor roll:

Miller Creek Middle School, San Rafael
Westlake Middle School, Oakland
Edna Brewer Middle School, Oakland
James B. Davidson Middle School, San Rafael
Aragon High School, San Mateo


©2008 By Janos Gereben, all rights reserved. Janos Gereben ( is a regular contributor to San Francisco Classical Voice.