SANTA FE, N.M. — On your mark, get set, go! are the commands for a runner in a foot race. But for Sean Shepherd, just getting to the starting line to composing his new string quartet was tough.
“I think I had about 20 false starts, 20 different ideas,” Shepherd acknowledged in a phone interview. “I did finally find my way into the piece. Once I am in I can work quickly. But it’s deciding which building blocks to use.”
The FLUX Quartet will premiere Shepherd’s second string quartet on Wednesday, Aug. 5, in Albuquerque and Thursday, Aug. 6 in Santa Fe. The concerts are part of the 43rd annual Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, which commissioned the work.
Shepherd composed his first string quartet more than 10 years ago, and, he noted, “it was, for all kinds of reasons, the cliched young composer trying to make a statement. … It was very big, very overdone … had a lot of virtuoso playing.”
By comparison, he said, the second string quartet, is more concise, much shorter, in two movements and contains a clearer formal idea: “The first movement is slow-fast and second movement fast-slow,” he said.
“This one is more the quartet working as a unit, fewer soloists.”
The new string quartet is also a response to his oboe quartet, which the chamber music festival commissioned and premiered several years ago.
“I don’t consider it an extension, but a sibling, of that piece. I am proud of it and the experience was great. And how do I reflect on the oboe quartet and how does it affect the string quartet?” Shepherd asked himself.
Felix Fan, the FLUX Quartet’s cellist, said Shepherd’s writing is very imaginative, very creative.
“He has his own sound,” Fan said. “All four of us know and love him as a composer and as a person.”
On the same paired concerts, the Orion String Quartet and Haochen Zhang, a Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medalist, will play Ernst von Dohnanyi’s Piano Quintet in E-flat minor, No. 2.
Compared to Dohnanyi’s first piano quintet, this one “is more complex and sophisticated … more intimate, personal. I guess the word is sensual,” said Orion cellist Steve Tenenbom.
His first piano quintet is performed more often because it is so exuberant, Tenenbom said.
Two other works are on the program. Zhang plays Alberto Ginestera’s Piano Sonata No. 1 and Joshua Smith and Kathleen McIntosh perform J.S. Bach’s Sonata in E-flat major for Flute and Harpsichord. Smith, who is from Albuquerque, is principal flute of the Cleveland Orchestra.