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By Karen Nikos-Rose on January 11, 2019

Composed During a Time of Ongoing Gun Violence

The Daedalus Quartet will premiere a new work by UC Davis Department of Music Chair Laurie San Martin as well as pieces by doctoral music composition students in two concerts next weekend.

San Martin’s Six Cuts will be performed Friday, Jan. 18, along with Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D Major and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Minor, opus 59, No. 2. The concert is at the Ann E. Pitzer Center at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $12 for students and children and $24 for adults.

"I was reacting to what I found to be a daily barrage of horrific news in the United States"

San Martin, on composing the music

Works by graduate student composers will be performed by the quartet on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2 to 3 p.m. for free at the Pitzer Center.

Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, the quartet has won acclaim for its adventurous exploration of contemporary music, most notably the compositions of Elliott Carter, George Perle, György Kurtág and György Ligeti, as well as recording and performances of music by Haydn, Stravinsky and Ravel.

Composing the piece: quiet time interrupted by news of gun violence

San Martin started the piece during a quiet composing retreat at Lake Tahoe in 2016 that was interrupted by ongoing news of gun violence. That charted the course for the piece.

“I keep reaching for joy and humor, but there was all this noise happening behind it,” she said, and it is directly reflected in the piece. “What it sounds like is very much a part of the process.”

For example, in the second movement the cello playfully repeats the same simple tune while the other players are busily commenting and racing around. The last movement is a “dark chorale.”

“I was reacting to what I found to be a daily barrage of horrific news in the United States,” San Martin said. “This piece was an outlet and a reaction to the constant traumatic news about that. The shift in extremes from one movement to the next mirrors the extreme contrast of life and death; one moment, we are remembering innocence and playful youth, and the next moment we are overwhelmed with the pain and devastation of a life cut short.”

The collaboration between the composer and quartet came about a few years after San Martin met Daedalus violinist Min-Young Kim though their mutual friend, violinist and Davis native Ben Kreith.

After starting the piece, San Martin set it aside, then picked it up again during the 2017–2018 academic year while she was in Berlin on a Guggenheim Fellowship. The quartet was touring Germany last year and met with San Martin for a run-through of the piece.

“This group is one of the best string quartets around and I’m grateful to be working with them,” San Martin said.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science, contributed to this story

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Video: Beethoven Quartet in B Flat Major, Opus 18, No. 6 performed by the Daedalus Quartet.