"The idea of their returning here every year is for us to grow with them as they evolve as a musical entity, and witness their traversals of repertoires, both classic and novel," said Pleasanton harpist Dominique Piana, curator of classical music at the Firehouse, in a write-up. "It has been said that new wine deserves new bottles. In the same way, a new art center like the Firehouse needs new ways of bringing its artistic message into the community."
Cecily Ward, Tom Stone, Ethan Filner and Jennifer Kloetzel formed the Cypress String Quartet in San Francisco in 1996. It has since become one of the most eminent ensembles of its generation, Piana said, and is recognized worldwide.
"A taste for good music can be developed by ongoing and repeated exposure: Anyone can be slowly won over if something that proved daunting reveals itself to be familiar, beautiful and moving," she added.
The string quartet members started out as "friends making music together in good cheer," she said, "like a four-way animated conversation around the table." She wondered whether it was the addition of an audience that led to its contemporary reputation as being formal or stuffy.
"There is a definite difference between the anchor repertoire composed around Vienna in the classical era, from 1770 on, whose sound is focused more inwardly, and later string quartets, composed for performance in more resonant public halls," Piana explained.
The Cypress String Quartet in this performance will perform Haydn's No. 63 in B-flat major, op. 76 No. 4, "Sunrise"; Beethoven's brooding and triumphant No. 11 in F minor, op. 95; and Ravel's Masterpiece.
"Published in 1799, Haydn's op. 76 Quartets, his last complete set of six, represent the culmination of his lifetime of musical striving by the composer at the peak of his powers," Piana said. "No. 4 in Bb Major was nicknamed 'Sunrise' in England because of its stunning opening violin line.
"Infinitely varied yet unified, it stands on its own with a surprisingly flexible language that switches back and forth between highly wrought sophistication and more bucolic moments, to luminous effect."
Beethoven's op. 95 was published in 1816 and was among the last of his middle-period quartets, and with the shortest first movement of all.
"Its provocative intensity results from the compression of the musical discourse, as the aggressive accentuation and dynamic contrasts of the beginning 'Allegro con brio' is followed by dense counterpoint in the slow 'Allegretto ma non troppo' movement," Piana said. "Only at the very end is Beethoven's torment assuaged, and the human spirit triumphs over adversity."
Ravel's sole quartet from 1903 is dedicated to his teacher, Gabriel Faure.
"It mirrors the effervescent world of turn-of -the-century Paris," Piana said. "Formally, even the young Ravel is already a classicist at heart, yet his mature craftsmanship and mastery of orchestration shine through pointedly.
"He integrates the kaleidoscopic influences of his time, veering toward the rhythms of Spain here, or conjuring the sound of the exotic gamelan orchestra there, waxing rhapsodic, turning to modality, or impressionistic harmonies," she continued.
"It's all there, wonderfully crystallized into Ravelian finery and ending with blazing colors."
'Artistry of uncommon insight'