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The next Cypress String Quartet ‘salon’ juxtaposes Shostakovich and Britten

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Next month the Cypress String Quartet (violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner, and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel) will present the second concert in their 2013–2014 Salon Series. The title of the series is Slavic Soundscapes; and this concert will begin, appropriately enough, with the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. He will be represented by his Opus 122 string quartet in F minor (the eleventh). This is a model of sophisticated structure, consisting of seven movements, each exploring a different conventional form and all played without pause, the entirety of which is packed into about fifteen minutes of duration.

This quartet will be followed by Benjamin Britten’s Opus 94 string quartet, his third publication in this genre and his final string quartet. There was a strong personal connection between Shostakovich and Britten that reinforces this juxtaposition. This is particularly evident in the quartet’s raucous burlesque movement, which Britten seems to have composed with Shostakovich in mind. It is also important to note that this was not just Britten’s last quartet but also one of his final compositions, composed in 1975 after his right hand had been disabled by a stroke sustained during surgery to replace a heart valve in May of 1973. Shostakovich died in 1975, so one may say that both composers were living in the shadow of death when Britten composed Opus 94.

The final work on the program will be Benjamin Lees’ fifth string quartet, composed in 2001. Lees was born in Harbin, China; but his parents were Russian Jews. He was born in 1924 while they were emigrating from Russia to San Francisco. Like Britten, Lees had an intense interest in Shostakovich. That interest may have emerged, at least in part, from Shostakovich’s sympathy for the Jews of Russia who suffered under both Russian authority and the invasion of the Nazis, although Lees does not seem to have discussed this possible connection explicitly.

The San Francisco performance of this concert will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 25. The venue this season is the Joe Henderson Lab, located on the first floor of the SFJAZZ Center at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street. Single tickets will be available for $50 with a 20% discount for groups of ten or more attending the same concert. Tickets at both prices are available on a Brown Paper Tickets event page.

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