Quartet Premieres Professor’s Newest Work

Daedalus Quartet new works UC Davis Laurie San Martin
Laurie San Martin, composer, UC Davis professor
Laurie San Martin

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 January concerts.

San Martin’s “Six Cuts” will be performed Jan. 18 along with Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D Major and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Minor, op. 59, no. 2. The concert is at the Ann E. Pitzer Center at 7 p.m. 

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. Daedalus were 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.

Daedalus Quartet UC Davis
Daedalus Quartet back on campus.

San Martin’s music has been performed by San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Berlin PianoPercussion, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, eighth blackbird, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and the Lydian. Along with the Guggenheim Fellowship, she has also received awards from the Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fromm Foundation and the League of Composers -International Society of Contemporary Music.  

On Jan. 19 at 2 p.m., the Daedalus Quartet will premiere works by doctoral composition students Addie Camsuzou, Jonathan Favero, Daniel Godsil, Ryan Suleiman and Sarah Wald at the Pitzer Center.

This is the second time the quartet has been at UC Davis; they did a similar residency that included a concert of student premieres and another mixing new and older music in 2014. The quartet performed some of those student pieces in other locations and formed a relationship with then-student Gabriel Bolaños, whose work they will perform next year.

“We’re very excited to come back to UC Davis,” Kim said.

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.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science