Cypress String Quartet mixes music, words, visions to examine American spirit

February 05, 2009
Dale Long/Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, left an indelible imprint on America's soul and serves as the inspiration for the dazzling, high-spirited multimedia presentation, "Inspired by America," by critically acclaimed Cypress String Quartet on Feb. 13 at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Hatfield Hall Theater.

The show, part of Rose-Hulman's Performing Arts Series, is being sponsored by Arts Illiana, a regional partner of the Indiana Arts Commission. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for youths and non-Rose-Hulman students, and free for the college's students. Interested persons can call the Hatfield Hall Ticket Office at (812) 877-8544 or visit between 1-5 p.m. on weekdays.

"Inspired by America" is a 90-minute program that melds some of the finest chamber music composed in the United States with film images and words from the ideals of the country's culturally formative influences, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The effects of the destruction of Native American culture, slavery and other transformational events are also explored in the context of the promise America has represented for waves of immigrants and the world.

"We're giving people something to think about, while, hopefully, creating a pleasing concert-going experience," says Cypress String Quartet cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, a founding member of the San Francisco-based group. "The show should attract the attention of the eye, the ear and the mind."

Jacob Needleman's best-selling book, "The American Soul" serves as the backdrop for the conversation, and his insightful commentary is set against a backdrop of original film segments that feature American art, photographs, landscapes, film clips and other images. The Cypress String Quartet pulls everything together with forms of music that reflect the depth and diversity of the American story, including excerpts from pieces by American jazz legend Charles Mingus.

The show's musical score will feature movements from pieces such as Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," which opens the show and is part of the Perspective segment; Antonin Dvorak's "American Quartet," showcased in the first Identity, middle Crimes of America and closing Hope for the Future segments; Charles Tomlinson Griffes' "Two Sketches on Native American Themes," used in the George Washington and Frederick Douglass segments; and Charles Ives' "String Quartet No. 1," part of the Hope of the World segment.

Then there's "Siciliano," a charming string quartet piece of 16 musical notes composed by the multi-talented Benjamin Franklin. The lighthearted piece of music, played without left-hand fingering, using only the bow, showcases the inventor's ingenuity, profound curiosity and intellect, self-reliance and enlightened spirit for life and provides a perfect accompaniment to the quartet's examination of Franklin's lasting contribution to the and provides a perfect accompaniment to the quartet's examination of Franklin's lasting contribution to the American legacy.

"The show is more like opera, with a unique opening, a strong middle and an inspirational ending," observed Kloetzel, adding that there is no break throughout the entire production. "Once we get on a roll, and the musical train has left the station, there's no stopping us until we get to our destination — with the audience coming along for the ride."

Kloetzel is joined in the group by violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone and viola performer Ethan Filner. Since its inception in 1996, the Cypress String Quartet has built a respected body of new music, commissioning and premiering over 25 works from many of America's leading composers. To commemorate Felix Mendelssohn's 200th birthday in 2009, the Cypress and the Library of Congress have co-commissioned a new quartet from brilliant young American composer Kevin Puts. Paired with Mendelssohn and Beethoven quartets, Puts' new work will premiere later in February in Washington, D.C., as part of the "Mendelssohn on the Mall" project in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museum.

Other recent Cypress commissions have come from 2005 Grawemeyer Award-winning composer George Tsontakis, and Grammy nominees Benjamin Lees and Jennifer Higdon. Four original Cypress commissions are listed on Chamber Music America's list of "101 Great American Ensemble Works."

Cypress String Quartet is quartet-in-residence at San José State University in California.

During its trip to Terre Haute, education outreach activities are planned on Thursday for music students at Terre Haute North Vigo High School; a technical "Behind the Scenes" concert rehearsal for Rose-Hulman students, faculty and staff members on Thursday and an educational workshop for Rose-Hulman students on Feb. 13.

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