John Adams World Premiere Highlights a Standout Month for Chamber Music

This month's premiere marks John Adams' third collaboration with the St. Lawrence String Quartet. (Photo: Marco Borggreve)

It's always a thrill to witness a world premiere of a new work by a prominent composer, and next week's performance by the St. Lawrence String Quartet offers just that. In an ongoing series at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall to celebrate the quartet's 25th anniversary, a clear highlight is the Jan. 18 unveiling of John Adams' Second Quartet.

Adams and the St. Lawrence share a fruitful relationship dating back to the composer's first quartet, which was given a West Coast premiere and recording for Nonesuch Records by the quartet. The St. Lawrence also premiered Adams' Absolute Jest with the San Francisco Symphony during the symphony's centennial season.

As for what audiences can expect of the new work—performed in a program alongside Haydn and Beethoven—Adams sounds a note of experimentation.

"What I appreciate about my friends in the St. Lawrence is their willingness to let me literally ‘improvise’ on them as if they were a piano or a drum, and I a crazy man beating away with only the roughest outlines of what I want," Adams says. "They will go the distance with me, allow me to try and fail, and they will indulge my seizures of doubt, frustration and indecision, all the while providing intuitions and frequently brilliant suggestions of their own."

Tickets to the performance, priced at $35–$75, are available here.

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Chamber music fans truly have an abundance of riches for the rest of January. The Alexander String Quartet continues its ambitious Mozart in Vienna series on Jan. 17 at the SFJAZZ Center. Joined by guest viola Andrew Duckles, the masterful quartet performs Mozart's Quartet in D Major ("Hoffmeister") and Viola Quintet in C Major. Hosting the special 10am performance is composer and music historian Robert Greenberg. Details and tickets here.

At the Noe Valley Ministry, another world premiere is underway: Full Fathom Five, by the promising young composer Liam Wade, features soprano Ann Moss in a Jan. 25 concert hosted by cellist Emil Miland. Celebrating Noe Valley Chamber Music's return to the church, the program includes pieces by Michel Merlet, Lou Harrison, David Conte and more. Miland himself even teams with pianist and composer Jake Heggie for three songs by Noel Coward. Details and tickets here.

Across the bridge to the north, Mill Valley Chamber Music hosts clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu on Jan. 25. In a collaboration called "meltingly beautiful" by the New York Times, the duo presents pieces by Brahms, Chopin, Poulenc, Stravinsky and more inside Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church. Details and tickets here.

Further north, at the beautiful "modern grange" that is SHED in Healdsburg, the Szymanowski Quartet performs on Feb. 4. Hailing from Warsaw, the group plans a program of composers both Polish and Ukrainian. Presented by Brave New Music, which promotes a more casual concert atmosphere than most classical fans may be used to, the concert also features a string quartet rendition of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Details and tickets here.

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