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The Power of Four

Inside Knuth Hall, Frederick Lifsitz halts his strings students mid-quintet and asks them to think of a Monet painting. "Your interpretation of this music reminds me of standing too close. All you see are the splotches, the dots -- you can't see the subject." He asks the quartet to try again, to be less specific, softer with their bows, to musically step back ten feet so that their audience can "see the cathedral."

Lifsitz borrows Terrance Yan's violin and ever-so-softly the sound of a world-class violinist fills the auditorium. Throughout the class, Lifsitz's counterparts on the Alexander String Quartet -- fellow violinist Zakarias Grafilo, violist Paul Yarbrough and cellist Sandy Wilson -- borrow students' instruments as well. By the end of the class, the University's quartet in residence has helped each student improve upon the tone and fluidity of the composition.

SF State isn't the only lucky recipient of the quartet's talents. An intensive outreach program in conjunction with San Francisco Performances takes the string players to high schools across San Francisco, where they not only teach music but use it as a starting point for discussions on such subjects as literature, science, math and history. "It is great to see the eyes of these young students light up when they hear the music and then join in the dialogue," Lifsitz says.

The quartet puts in long hours working with students at SF State while also maintaining a demanding performance schedule. "We plan ahead carefully and try very hard not to screw up," Wilson explains. In October alone the quartet played at venues throughout California, New York, Kentucky and New Orleans and traveled to Germany to make two recordings including a CD of Chopin and Beethoven with their distinguished
colleague, Professor Roger Woodward.

The quartet's upcoming releases include the final volume of the Complete Quartets of Shostakovich and the complete Quartets of Wayne Peterson, SF State's Pulitzer Prize-winning professor emeritus, both on Fog Horn Classics.

For upcoming performances on campus: www.sfsu.edu/calendar

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