The setting was Sunday afternoon, April 25th, 2010 in Saratoga, California at the lovely Villa Montalvo estate, where the Cypress String quartet, with special guest Cellist Amos Yang, performed the String Quintet in C-Major, D. 956 by Franz Schubert.
The venue was a lovely library-like intimate setting. Think of a large rectangular room with huge fireplace, oak floors, wood ceilings, and wood walls; all beautifully crafted. And the players, all have terrific academic credentials, trained at the finest music schools and playing priceless instruments.
What more could anyone want?
A group of about 60 people attended the concert. Before the Schubert, we were treated to the opening movement of Mendelssohn’s Quartet Op. 13. This was followed by the last movement of the Beethoven Quartet Op. 135. Several of the players, beginning with Cecily Ward, and followed by other performers, created an intimate setting by sharing some interesting facts about the music.
Once the playing began, it was clear at once that these are fine instrumentalists. They had strong command of each person’s instrument. Their technique was excellent. Overall, the playing reflected an understanding of the material. It was also quite clear how much the group respected the mastery of Schubert’s work and its importance in the chamber music repertoire.
Mr. Yang is clearly a fine musician. Just as an example, his Pizzicato in the Schubert second movement showed us his amazing Cello sonority that gave the entire group a fine sense of support and a beautiful bass sound! Click here for an interesting inerview with Amos Yang… My sense was that the Cypress Quartet has strong potential. I felt that it has the core ingredients to become a major performing group. However, I saw the need to have the Cypress Quartet focus on two specific areas:
- Review your venue, and take steps to adjust your playing if necessary: This was not a concert hall; rather, it was a library – like room with all wood and glass materials. There were no drapes; nothing to absorb the sound. The overall sound of the music was frequently way too loud. This interfered with the intended intimacy. The 10th bar of the Schubert first movement is marked “pp”. In this setting, with all the finest instruments playing, the pianissimo became much too loud.
- Ms. Ward, when you talked to the audience, your eyes sparkled! And I could see the passion that you have for the music. Once the music began, however, your eyes were mostly closed. Please don’t be offended when I say that the leader of a rowing team, or of a programming team, or of a music performance team needs to communicate with the team. And the team members deserve to occasionally see your open eyes! Your eyes have the capability to communicate a lot of feelings, as they did when you spoke with us, verbally. Your team-mates were constantly looking at you; however they mostly encountered your closed eye lids. While you clearly are at a high level of concentration to assure that you produce the violin sound you want, the players you lead need you to be their effective leader, as well.
With a bit of attention to these areas, the Cypress Quartet is headed for further great success, and they will return to the Montalvo Concert series next season.
Here is an extract of the group doing the Debussy Quartet in G: