SFist.com: Cypress Quartet at Old First Church

Source: sfist.com
October 3, 2012
by Cedric Westphal

The Cypress Quartet at Old First Church: The Cypress String Quartet has been performing together for 16 years, they are local, we featured them and one of their commissions in the past, and they have this Call-and-Response concept that we love: they ask composers to write a contemporary palimpsest for some classic quartets (often enough by Beethoven, it seems), creating new music while at the same time honoring the tradition. So how come we had never heard them live? We went to Old First Church last night to hear them in three pieces they had commissioned between 2006 and now, in a concert presented by Composers Inc.

Composers Inc is an organization dedicated to new American music, and they are trying to get some kickstarter funds for a commission by Jeffrey Miller for the SF Opera brass section. Give them some love, if you have some spare change, you don't want the SF Opera brass section youth to be idling on the street.

The three pieces played by the Cypresses demonstrated why you should aggressively commission new pieces: first, you can't put all your eggs in one basket, the results will not satisfy everybody; and second, when those results will satisfy you, it's going to be revelatory. This is to say that the String Quartet no. 5 by George Tsontakis left us cold. It keeps its distance from the audience, it's relatively slow and evenly paced, very meditative and we just didn't get into it. Kevin Puts' Lento Assai on the other hand just invites you in its world. It starts with a minor third on the viola and cello opening into a D major triad, a very tonal and very static welcome which then slowly shifts into a more lively, more harmonically mixed middle section, before reverting to the original pace, now in A major. The subtle evolution just transports you in its world and returns you back, we were transfixed.

The program concluded with the world premiere of Elena Ruehr's sixth String Quartet, which covers a lot of colors and atmospheres in what is in some sense a portrait of its dedicatee. The Cypress guys (Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violins, Ethan Filner, viola and Jennifer Kloetzel, cello) do have a beautiful sound, nicely anchored by the big, majestic tone of its cello. Maybe it's because we were seating on the side of the viola and cello, but they struck us as the assertive backbone of the quartet's color. That and the pinpoint ensemble synchronicity.

The good thing about Old First Church on a Tuesday evening is that you can seat very near the top-notch performers for less than twenty bucks to hear exciting new music. We must do it more often.