SF Chronicle: Cypress Quartet brings Beethoven to the Tenderloin

Source: www.sfchronicle.com
May 5, 2016
by Joshua Kosman
Media: Tim Hussin

The regulars at St. Anthony Dining Room in the Tenderloin have the drill down pat — the flow of the food line, the protocol for getting second helpings, the sight of familiar faces. What they didn’t anticipate on Wednesday, May 4, was having a string quartet regale them with Beethoven’s music while they ate a free lunch.

“Well, that was special, and unexpected,” said Cathy Carpenito, a 40ish San Francisco resident who had dropped into the facility with her friend Sly Ham, 59. “We were walking by and just saw the violins through the window.”

Those instruments belonged to the Cypress String Quartet, which is celebrating its 20th and final season together with “Beethoven in the City,” a program to perform all 16 of the composer’s quartets in a series of free public appearances throughout the city. Wednesday’s performance of the Quartet Op. 18, No. 1 — Beethoven’s first published work in the genre — seemed like an apt way to kick off this compact two-week marathon.

And although not all of the more than 200 patrons who trooped through the dining room in the course of the performance seemed to be listening very attentively, those who did — including a table full of avid listeners who sat up front and discussed the music in some detail — agreed that Beethoven made a welcome accompaniment to the meal.


Charles Calderon, 71, front left, and Wayne Marques, 61, eat lunch and listen as members of the Cypress String Quartet perform at St. Anthony’s: Cecily Ward (left), Tom Stone, Jennifer Kloetzel and Ethan Filner. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle

More photos on www.sfchronicle.com

“That performance was excellent,” said Helen Johnson, 51, who said he had trained as a flutist in both jazz and classical music. “The cellist, you could see she was cuing all the members of the group with her eyes.”

“I’ve heard a lot of music in San Francisco, going back to the Summer of Love,” said Wilbert Bruce, 64, who heard the music from farther back in the room. “Their tone and pitch were great.”

“Beethoven in the City” is one of three complete cycles that the quartet is undertaking as the members — violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel — prepare to go their separate ways after a farewell concert June 26. The first, recently completed, was in the historic concert halls of Vienna and Budapest; the final one is scheduled for the Sitka Music Festival, and billed as Alaska’s first complete Beethoven quartet cycle.

But for now, the quartet is trooping the composer’s music through a range of public spaces, including all 11 of the city’s supervisorial districts.

Some of the pieces have been carefully planned to suit their respective venues. San Francisco General Hospital, for example, will hear the Op. 132 Quartet, whose central movement is a “hymn of thanksgiving” after the composer’s recovery from a serious illness.

Others, scheduled for such locations as Fort Funston, the Bernal Heights Library and the Sutro Baths, are more loosely thematic. “We tried to mix it up a little, while we made sure to get to every neighborhood in town,” said Maggee VanSpeybroeck, the group’s executive director.

St. Anthony’s felt like a particularly apt place for the project’s initial airing. The reception was enthusiastic, if scattered, with applause greeting each movement and a standing ovation once the piece had run its full 30-minute course.

And there were even more fervent admirers than that. Rodney Green, 65, who had let his lunch go cold while he grew ever more enraptured by the music, leaped to his feet the moment the performance was over. “Right on!” he cried. “I like that! I really do!”

For an ensemble that spends most of its time playing in acoustically designed concert halls for quiet and attentive listeners, this is a different sort of assignment, said the quartet’s Stone — but a welcome one.

“We’ve played in noisy settings before, and once you get past that, there’s a real sense of people out there who are tuning in and getting it.

“You know, something like this isn’t going to change the world all by itself. But we can try to make this day a little better.”