For the Alexander String Quartet’s biggest Fresno fan: ASQ and you shall be answered
David Fox had what some might consider an audacious request for the world-renowned Alexander String Quartet: How about transforming into a quintet for its upcoming performance as part of Fresno’s Keyboard Concerts series?
And because ASQ is the kind of ensemble that is up for innovation, members said sure. (The chamber ensemble performs at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at the Fresno State Concert Hall. The concert is sponsored by co-sponsored by Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts, Orpheus Chamber Music Ensemble and the Fresno Philharmonic.)
It helps that Fox – a longtime supporter of Keyboard Concerts – has been a decades-long fan of the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet. The ensemble has performed at least three times over the years in Fresno, including the California State University Summer Arts Festival.
Joining the four current members (Zakarias Grafilo, Frederick Lifsitz, David Samuel and Sandy Wilson will be Paul Yarbrough, a co-founder and emeritus member.
With five players, the ensemble will play two Mozart quintets (in B-flat major and C minor). Then, as a quartet, ASQ will play the Debussy Quartet in G minor.
Fox is a prominent chamber musician himself, having spent decades as a cellist in the Fresno-based Rogue River String Quartet. I asked him to share Five Things he loves about the Alexander String Quartet and its members.
1. Their boundless energy and endless enthusiasm.
“It radiates through everything they do,” Fox says.
2. Their love of teaching.
Fox has always been impressed with how much they are dedicated to it, which probably comes as no surprise, considering they’re all on the music faculty at San Francisco State University.
“They’re really committed to teaching,” he says. “It’s amazing to see what they can do when working with student groups or amateur groups. They really are able to transform the music-making into something that makes structural and emotional sense.”
3. Their accessibility and friendliness.
Some people are just open and welcoming. Fox is happy to see how effortlessly the ASQ members can engage with music lovers and act as sort of brand ambassadors for the cause of chamber music.
4. Their ability to communicate with each other both during a performance and when they’re working out things in their own rehearsals.
If you’ve never seen the way chamber musicians interact with each other during a performance, it’s impressive. Because there’s no conductor, the musicians take cues from each other through eye contact or body movements. It’s almost as if members of a quartet (or quintet) are so in tune with each other that they’re like extensions of the same body.
“The way they address each other in the course of a performance is quite remarkable,” Fox says. “A look or a gesture says everything.”
5. Their willingness to experiment.
The quartet embraces contemporary composers and new arrangements of classic pieces. A recent example: a new arrangement of Shubert’s “Winterreise” for String Quartet.
Perhaps the most obvious example of the quartet’s innovation: the members’ willingness to become a quintet, if just for Fresno.