Weekend pick: Tower Quartet sets its strings on a personalized piece written by Bryce Cannell

The concert: The Tower Quartet, the acclaimed group of young Fresno-area chamber musicians that has made such a splash on the local classical scene, is celebrating the season with a trippily named concert titled “The Eternal Question.” It includes three pieces, one of which is commissioned, along with a Shostakovich string quartet and a Brahms piano quintet.

Times and dates: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, First Christian Church of Selma; and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, University Presbyterian Church of Fresno.

The commissioned piece: “Ash Tree Sketches,” or bocetos de fresno, was written for the group by Bryce Cannell, a composer with strong local ties. Quartet member Lianna Elmore explains the work is comprised of four rearrangeable sketches that illustrate the predilections and personalities of each member. Amidst these vignettes is a recurring recomposition of the ritornello from the prologue of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo — “a work I have long admired,” Elmore says. The result is a type of polyvalent rondeau or musical ‘hub-and-spoke’ network that embraces tonal idioms and simplicity, and is reflective of the roots and interests of its collaborators.

In other words: It’s a personalized chamber piece! You could call it designer music. Cannell, a music professor at Fresno State, interviewed each member of the quartet to get a better sense of personalities and musical preferences. The movements are labeled Sketch K, Sketch M, Sketch L and Sketch E, which stand for their first names, Kelvin, Matthew, Lianna, and Erin.

The result: “We all had different requests ranging from lyrical romanticism, minimalism, and in my case a mix of quotes from both classical and rock influences,” Elmore says. “We really enjoyed finding all the little Easter eggs that he left for us in the piece as well as how our parts seamlessly pass from one to another in a single phrase. He did a marvelous job of making each of our movements sound distinct while still ensuring the piece is cohesive as a whole, which is a perfect metaphor for what a string quartet ensemble is.”

 Suggested donation: $10.


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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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