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Photograph by Andrew Shapter
Locally Made: Composer Kevin Puts finished 'Credo' while at the Cabrillo Music Festival this past summer.

The Miro Quartet and Kevin Puts' 'Credo'

The piece commissioned by Chamber Music Monterey Bay is unveiled.

By Scott MacClelland

After several residencies at the Cabrillo Festival, composer Kevin Puts found a new client in Carmel's venerable Chamber Music Monterey Bay, a presenter in a town hardly known for new music. Thanks to the vision of CMMB's board president, Amy Anderson, a commission was agreed, and Puts' new string quartet, Credo, gets its premiere at Sunset Center when the Miró Quartet performs this Friday.Now 35, Puts has taken his place alongside Christopher Rouse, Jennifer Higdon and other American composers at the forefront of the current renaissance of symphonic music. He and they have also attracted a following for other than orchestral works, and, accordingly, usually charge a lower fee. The fee in this case was "expensive, and it's worth it," Anderson says, "somewhere between $100 a minute to $2,000 a minute." Her board voted to keep the figure confidential. Anderson is, however, able to reveal the history of the new string quartet. A regular attendee at Cabrillo Music Festival concerts, she found herself moved by Puts' Symphony no. 2 Island of Innocence, composed in response to the attacks of 9/11. "It blew me away," she says. Her enthusiasm was fired up again at Cabrillo in 2005 with Puts' River's Rush.

She went about the business of forming a group of interested parties, including her board, the Miró String Quartet and Lowell Figen of Monterey, who agreed to match the original funding, asking only that the finished work be dedicated to the memory of his wife, Janie Figen, a longtime chamber music lover.

The birth so far has gone according to plan; Puts completed it on July 3, while a resident composer at the 2007 Cabrillo Festival. Anderson says Miró's first violinist, Daniel Ching, asked for an "optimistic" piece to serve as an alternate to another, darker program they are touring this season. (Following the Carmel premiere, it will be introduced to Miró audiences in San Jose, Mill Valley and Ashland, all through CMMB's "West Coast booking partners," as Anderson calls them.)

Puts has gained a formidable reputation as an orchestral composer. So Anderson was understandably delighted when he said he would "love to write a quartet, something with just four voices." He estimates that it took him about two months to complete Credo. "It usually takes me a long time to start a piece," he says, "but finishing it goes pretty fast."

Marin Alsop is Puts' greatest fan, having invited him over and over to Cabrillo as one of her stable of composers in residence. Audiences have responded with enthusiasm, owing partly to Puts' classical clarity of form, but also to his narrative musical rhetoric.

"I really do like to tell a story," he says. And the stories he tells are deeply felt. In his program notes for the new quartet, he writes, "When Daniel Ching asked me to write a quartet for a program exploring 'the lighter side of America,' I wasn't sure I could deliver. It was hard to find things to sing about. The government stubbornly and arrogantly continued to pour young lives and billions of dollars into a hopeless war. Millions at home and abroad marched with what E.L. Doctorow described as 'the appalled understanding that America was ceding its role as "the last best hope of mankind,"' that 'the classic archetype of democracy was morphing itself into a rogue nation.'"Credo paints just such a conflicted portrait, but, as the title implies, rises to a hopeful conclusion. In the end, write Puts, "sometimes it seems all you can do is believe." While storytelling and communication are important, Puts says, this piece "doesn't have the same kind of narrative. One thing flows into the next. It is more episodic, not so much a story."

I couldn't resist asking him about his surname, notorious among the nastiest pejoratives in Yiddish. "It's the worst name in classical music," he lamented, then said with renewed optimism, "It means 'clean' in German."

THE MIRO QUARTET premieres Kevin Puts' 'Credo' on Friday, Oct. 12, at 8pm (pre-concert lecture at 7pm) at the Sunset Center, San Carlos Street between Eighth and Ninth streets, Carmel. Tickets are $29-$50; free seating for kids. 831.625.2212.

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