Calder Quartet Wows Audience

April 1, 2011, 12:45 a.m.
Calder Quartet Wows Audience
Courtesy of Tyler Boye

In front of a cozy crowd of students, the award-winning Calder Quartet performed three pieces on Tuesday, Mar. 29. The Quartet, here for its Wednesday collaboration with Grammy award-winning concert pianist and Stanford graduate Gloria Cheng, headed the latest installation of the Kimball Hall Chamber Series.

For the informal performance, the group used a program contrasting that of the main performance on Wednesday. The first piece, Mozart’s “Opus 95, Movement 1,” was, as violinist Andrew Bulbrook remarked, “short and compact.” Though beautifully played, the movement seemed to be simply a warm-up for the night.

Where the performance truly took off was the second piece, Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 8 in C minor.” A sad theme combined with spontaneous eruptions of sound in its third movement, Allegretto, clearly denotes the quartet as a mourning, yet captivating piece and the best by far of the performance.

After taking questions, the performers used their final piece to lighten the mood: “String Quartet, Movement 2 (Assez vif)” by Maurice Ravel, a playful composition invoking masterful pizzicato, or string-plucking.

Together, Bulbrook, violinist Benjamin Jacobson, violist Jonathan Moerschel and cellist Eric Byers comprise the Calder Quartet. The four began playing together in 1998 as students at the University of Southern California.

“We actually started together, since we were all performance majors, to fulfill our chamber requirement,” Moerschel said. “After five years, we turned around one day and were like, ‘Let’s keep doing this.'”

Since then, the group has collaborated with varied groups, including pianists, composers and even indie rock bands such as The Airborne Toxic Event.

“We’re driven by broad musical interests and our desire to bring in audiences from all sides,” Moerschel said. “All kinds of music say the same things using different language. And the more we do it, the more we realize we’re all trying to do the same thing.”

The Calder Quartet came specifically to the Bay Area as part of a series of shows debuting their newest performance piece, “String Quartet No. 3.” The piece was written for them by composer Christopher Rouse, his first new work in “20-odd years,” which Bulbrook labels, “phrenetic.”

Along with Rouse, with whom the four have forged a close relationship, the Calder Quartet detailed several sources of inspiration, including many of their professors and collaborators. One of their main muses, Alexander Calder, is the basis for their name. “He’s a terrific American artist,” Moerschel said. “We were really attracted to the mobile, widely considered one of the most musical forms of structure. There’s a good quote from [Jean-Paul Sartre] calling his work ‘chords and cadences of unknown movements.'”

As far as future direction, the Calder Quartet hopes to continue to create diverse and inspired music. “We like to work with a wide range of people creating art forms that the string quartet can interpret as best as possible, and we hope to come as close as possible to the true intent of whoever that creator might be,” Bulbrook said.

The Calder Quartet’s next big performance will be at Carnegie Hall on April 15, where they will debut the Rouse quartet for a New York audience.

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