Examiner.com: The Cypress String Quartet’s encouragement of contemporary composers

February 10, 2010
by Stephen Smoliar

Recognizing that every new composition emerges from some collection of past influences, the Cypress String Quartet launched a project they named Call & Response, under which they commission a composer to "respond" to some set of influences that they have "called." One composer with whom they have worked successfully in Elena Ruehr, whose fourth string quartet is a response to a call to consider the relationship between Ludwig van Beethoven's Opus 59, Number 3 "Razumovsky" quartet and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's K. 465 "Dissonant" quartet. At the level of surface features, Ruehr's response may not have extended very far beyond a decision to follow the same structure of movements that one finds in the Beethoven quartet; but she has been quoted as saying, "The surface is simple, but the structure is complex."

Those interested in pursuing the depths of that complexity may be able to do so after February 23, which is the date on which the Cypress will release a CD of their performances of three of her quartets, offering the fourth along with the first and third. This music covers a period of time from 1991 to 2005; and it draws upon a rich diversity of sources of inspiration, most of which are musical in one way or another.

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Meanwhile, the Cypress has continued their Call & Response agenda to include influences from literature as well as music. On February 26 at 8 PM in Herbst Theatre they will present the world premiere of another Ruehr composition. This one is entitled "Bel Canto" and is based on Ann Patchett's novel of the same name. The Ruehr premiere will be preceded by two earlier compositions inspired by poems that their respective composers had set as songs. The first will be Mozart's K. 575 quartet in D major, which draws upon "The Violet;" and the second is the better-known D. 810 quartet by Franz Schubert, based on "Death and the Maiden." Ruehr has made herself available for a pre-concert talk that will begin at 7:15 PM; and on February 25 in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library, Robert Cole will lead a discussion with both Ruehr and the Cypress at 6:15 PM.

My past experiences with the Cypress have been limited to two of their Noontime Concerts™ recitals, which covered a rich collection of music from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. I am fascinated by this approach that they have taken to commissioning new works for their repertoire; and it should provide an interesting point of departure for listening experiences, both in the concert hall and through their recording projects. Such innovative thinking deserves serious attention.

Tickets will be available for $40 and $25 at the door and for $30 and $20 if purchased in advance. Students and seniors will be admitted for $10. Sales are being handled by City Box Office and may be purchased at their Web site or through their telephone number, 415-392-4400.