By Stephanie Powell
“We went backwards in time with Beethoven,” says Jennifer Kloetzel, cellist of the Cypress Quartet. Performing the entire Beethoven cycle was a goal for the quartet from day one and now, 20 years later, the foursome can finally let out a sigh of relief. “We had a five-year plan to play the entire cycle,” she says, and laughs. “You get caught up in one [piece], and that’s one of the beautiful things about being in a group. You could spend 100 years performing one quartet in a group and each performance is a little different.”
Nearing their ultimate goal caused the quartet to re-evaluate. “We were starting to think, ‘Well, what comes next?’” Kloetzel says. And for each quartet member—violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner, and Kloetzel—that answer varied.
“It’s been a lot of really hard, hard work, and when we [thought about] what we wanted to do, I felt this kind of pull apart,” she says. “People wanted to do different things and [there are] family pressures. Then it got to the point where we said, ‘OK, do we start replacing people? Do we do what other [quartets] do?’”
The answer was no. The Cypress Quartet opted to “go out with a bang,” Kloetzel says, and honor their time together with an incredibly busy final season. The quartet’s recording of the complete Beethoven cycle comes out in May (Avie); and its final Call and Response program, an education program that has reached over 150,000 string players between the ages of ten and 100, is scheduled. The group will perform two Brahms strings sextets and record the works live with cellist Zuill Bailey and violist Barry Shiffman. The recording will be released on the Avie label as well. And finally, the group will perform at a Farewell Concert. “It’s the crescendo at the end,” Kloetzel says.
The difficult decision to disband has, in part, to do with the way the quartet formed. The members didn’t meet at school or conservatory like many quartets do—they came together after they had finished their studies because they “wanted to play this music.” Cypress still boasts three of its founding members, and Filner joined the group 15 years ago. The revolving-door method didn’t feel right.
“We are focusing on really celebrating all that we’ve done,” Kloetzel says. “We’ve been going gangbusters for 20 years—we’ve released over 15 recordings; we’ve commissioned over 40 works.” She thinks Beethoven would approve of the group’s notable obsession with his work, as he is often noted for his own obsessive behavior. “I have a friend who once described us as ‘forged in the fire of Beethoven,’” she says, “because we came together with the desire to focus solely on this music.”
The quartet members plan to go separate ways in June, but that doesn’t mean they have plans yet for post-Cypress life. “We’re working really hard within the next six months,” she says, adding that more of the quartet’s recordings will be released after June. “We are all at the top of our game and [don’t] have the time right now to figure out the next steps, other than [how to] wrap this up as beautifully as we can.”
The month of May is planned to be the quartet’s “big celebration month:” Along with the release of the complete Beethoven cycle, it is also offering 11 pop-up concerts in various San Francisco districts. “Our way to give back to a city that hosted us for 20 years,” she adds.
There are plenty of opportunities to witness the quartet’s gifts until June, thanks to Cypress’ jam-packed schedule. The Farewell Concert is roughly planned out, Kloetzel says. At press time, the quartet planned to program the Debussy Quartet, one of the first pieces the group learned together in 1996, and a “montage” of some of its favorite commissions over the past 20 years.
“And to end,” Kloetzel says, “A Beethoven quartet, of course!”