Miró String Quartet opens Chamber Music Monterey Bay season with premiere of new quartet by Kevin Puts.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
If talent makes a difficult task seem easy, then Kevin Puts has it. At 35, the St. Louis native is awash in commissions. This no doubt results from his growing reputation as a major composer of instantly appealing orchestral and chamber music. That, in turn, comes from the grace and naturalness with which he “speaks” the language of music. It doesn’t hurt that he came along at the height of the current renaissance of new American “classical” music. John Adams, Christopher Rouse and John Williams have paved the way for him. This Friday the Miró String Quartet plays his brand new Credo, a string quartet commissioned by Chamber Music Monterey Bay, which is also sponsoring its world premiere.
The path to the commission and premiere began when CMMB’s board president, Amy Anderson, heard Puts’ music at the 2003 Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz. Anderson found herself “upset and moved” by Puts’ Island of Innocence, a symphony composed in 2001 to memorialize the tragic events of 9/11. “It blew me away,” she says. Anderson convinced her board to support a commission, found the money, and pursued the Miró Quartet to launch the piece. Declining to disclose the actual cost of the commission, per her board’s injunction, she says it was simply, “… expensive, and worth it.”
Puts, who says his works are usually slow to start but pick up speed at the end, finished the new quartet on July 3 while he was a composer-in-residence at this year’s Cabrillo Festival. Daniel Ching, first violin of the Miró, asked Puts for something that would explore “the lighter side of America.” The composer found himself wondering if he was the right person for the job. His program notes make clear why: “It was hard to find things to sing about. The government stubbornly and arrogantly continued to pour young lives and billions of dollars into a hopeless war. Millions at home and abroad marched with what E.L. Doctorow described as ‘the appalled understanding that America was ceding its role as the best hope of mankind,’ that ‘the classic archetype of democracy was morphing itself into a rogue nation.’ ”
To know Puts’ music is to recognize how effectively he translates his own strong reactions to current events, whether global or personal. One also quickly learns that Puts likes to tell stories in his music, not in the pictorial sense of a Strauss tone poem, but at a level of circumspect emotions. His success in communicating this makes the best case for his talent. Instead of challenging his listeners with outrageous new effects, his music recycles familiar devices, like set-ups and releases, and dissonance resolving into consonance. If it doesn’t always comfort, at least it reassures, and beneath the complexity can always be found a fundamental simplicity. The composer will attend the premiere.
Miró String Quartet performs Credo by Kevin Puts, along with Charles Ives’ String Quartet No.1 and Dvorak’s Quartet in F Major, Op.96, at the opening of the Chamber Music Monterey Bay 2007-2008 season. The quartet’s meteoric rise to prominence is perhaps best attested by two of the premiere honors in music: first prize at the Naumberg Chamber Music Awards, and the Avery Fisher Career Grant. After the Carmel premiere, they will perform the new Puts quartet this season in San Jose, Mill Valley and Ashland.
Miró String Quartet performs at 8pm Friday, Oct. 12, at the Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $27-$41. 625-2212 or chambermusicmontereybay.org.