Fun & enlightenment in San Francisco

Not For Fun Only (blog by Axel Feldheim)
Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cypress String Quartet: Call & Response

Mendelssohn Bicentennial Celebration
Friday, April 3, 2009 at 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Mendelssohn, String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13
Kevin Puts, Lento Assai (2009)
Beethoven, String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135

Thanks to a generous friend who got double-booked this evening, I was able to attend the Herbst Theatre Call & Response concert by the Cypress String Quartet. I was at one of their outreach programs last weekend, so it was nice to see the culminating concert.

Pre-concert, John Clare, a large jovial man with a mohawk, interviewed composer Kevin Puts on stage about his new work & composing in general. Mr Puts told us how difficult it is to achieve a blended sound when writing for woodwinds, though Mozart was a master at this. He shared with us his surprise on hearing the Cypress String Quartet play his work for the 1st time, quite close to the premiere. He discovered that sometimes their interpretation diverged significantly from his intent, causing him to realize the need to add more markings to the score. Mr. Puts is a tall, fit & handsome man, & the audience was clearly appreciative of the chance to hear him speak informally.


The group's executive director Todd Donovan made announcements before the concert & read from a plaque presented to the quartet by state senator Mark Leno. Then before each piece, a member of the quartet made introductory remarks, & Mr. Puts returned to speak briefly before his piece was played. There was a lot of talking at this event.

I enjoyed this program very much. The Mendelssohn piece was precocious & exuberant, & the quartet gave it a lively performance. The Puts work is in a single movement about 15 minutes long. It made me think of a tranquil sleeper who begins to have a troubling dream, but then settles back into a peaceful sleep. The playing in the Beethoven was refined & smooth. The last movement, while very active, had a lightness to it. As an encore, the group played a sweetly lyrical piece by Charles Griffes, based on a Chippewa song. As before, I appreciated the quartet's warm, smooth sound & good communication between players. Cellist Jennifer Koetzel makes a fat & happy sound.

As is appropriate for an outreach program, the audience was made up of many school children & people who probably don't show up at classical music shows much. They applauded consistently after each movement, & a bunch of the school girls had fun screaming for the players when they walked on stage. There was a small exhibit in the lobby, including items like Beethoven's signature & Mendelssohn's letters. Someone had the excellent idea to place the full score of the Puts piece on display as well.