Musically, Mining Gems in the Ruehr Region

October 6, 2012
by Paul Hertelendy

A profound new string quartet was unveiled here at the Old First Concerts, deserving a much wider audience than the smattering of folks turning up at Old First Concerts on a balmy Tuesday night.

This was the premiere of Elena Ruehr’s String Quartet No. 6, a 25-minute opus more engrossing than other works of hers we had encountered with her West Coast performers of the Cypress String Quartet. Like the entire program that night, it showed influences of Beethoven, especially in counterpoint, use of contrasts, and delivery of concurrent messages. It spotlighted shifting rhythms, animation, pairings of violins (was Borodin lurking backstage?), robust solos for cello and viola, swooping melismas, even some syncopation and pizzicato. There are many moods, as if you entered a giant greenhouse and found, in each chamber, a distinct population of alluring plants. And repeatedly Ruehr came back to restless cello solos---a trademark---delivered by the Cypress cellist Jennifer Kloetzel. It was a thought-provoking fascination, offering far more than one could fully assimilate in a single hearing; one would hope that the Cypress reschedules it at a future date.

The Cypress SQ’s frequent “Call and Response” commissions, which invite composers to respond to masterworks out of the past, colored the companion pieces, all hark back toward Beethoven. This was a night for prize-winners. Kevin Puts, this year’s Pulitzer winner, served up the brief “Lento Assai,” departing from the Lento of Beethoven’s last quartet, Op. 135. He exploited extremes of instrumental range as well as sensuous slow sonorities.

Grawemeyer Award winner George Tsontakis brought out his String Quartet No. 5, a threnody responding to the death of George Rochberg in 2005. There were instruments deliberately in disarray, jostling one another, disoriented by tragedy, with underlying trills to suggest instability. The two-movement piece can be played in either sequence; Cypress chose one with an unresolved ending, as if the last page were missing---an apt reaction to the unexpected death of a solon.

The program of new and recent music was presented by Composers, Inc. in the varied series of Old First Concerts, an acoustical jewel hampered by being a mite off the beaten track. Old First presents six concerts and recitals a month through the season. The (local) Cypress SQ played with its accustomed professionalism to open the season here. It tends to focus on cellist Kloetzel, though the three companion players hold up their end quite effectively.

MUSIC NOTES---Ruehr had also written the more nebulous “Cloud Atlas” for the San Jose Chambr Orchestra last January, with Kloetzel as the guest soloist there as well. She had been a student of William Bolcom, moving on the MIT faculty in 1991. A name to watch.

Complete article here.