Several young chamber ensembles have been making their Utah debuts this season through the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City.

The most recent group to come to town is Germany's Kuss Quartet, which will give its first local concert Tuesday in Libby Gardner Concert Hall as part of its current two-week American tour.

While the quartet is new to the Beehive State, it's no stranger to the United States. The four members (violinists Jana Kuss and Oliver Wille; violist William Coleman; and cellist Mikayel Hakhnazaryan) met in the United States while students at the New England Conservatory, and this will be their fifth U.S. tour.

"Our first tour of the states was in 2003," Wille said in a phone interview from his home in Lausanne, Switzerland.

And despite familiarity with the country, Wille said he and his colleagues are thrilled to be returning. "This is a fantastic tour our management put together for us. We will be playing twice in New York and we will play in Washington, D.C., for the first time. We are all very excited about it."

Salt Lake City will be their final stop before flying back to Europe. "We are looking forward to coming. We are always happy when we can go to a new city," Wille said.

This season is special for the Kuss foursome. They've added Czech music to their extensive repertoire for the first time, and they will bring Smetana's Quartet No. 1 in E minor with them to Salt Lake City. "Playing Czech music is an interesting experience for us," Wille said. "We studied the Smetana this summer and it surprised us how great the piece is. It is programmatic and very colorful, because Smetana added operatic and orchestral elements into it — things that did not exist in quartet writing before."

Wille said the E minor Quartet wasn't well-received by Smetana's contemporaries. "The quartet that was going to premiere it refused to play it because they said it was too difficult." And when it finally was performed it wasn't appreciated. "It wasn't in Beethoven's stye of writing. It had a folk element that people didn't understand."

And it's folk, or at least folk-inspired, music that connects the three works the Kuss will play in Salt Lake City, Wille said.

Along with Smetana's quartet, the program also includes Bartok's Second Quartet. "It's a work that is extremely difficult to play, but we decided to do this one because of the connection it has to the Smetana. Bartok's quartet also has dance-like things in it, just like Smetana's."

The third work on the program is Haydn's "Lark" Quartet, op. 64, no. 5. "Haydn has always been a part of our repertoire right from the beginning," Wille said. "It is so fascinating that he could always come up with something new and interesting. His music is so inventive and imaginative."

Haydn's quartets, more so than Mozart's, are at the core of the Kuss' repertoire. When the group signed an exclusive recording contract with Sony three years ago, its first album consisted of three works by Haydn. "We thought that was the right way for us to introduce ourselves with our new label," Wille said.

Since then, the Kuss has been involved in stretching the boundaries of quartet music with some concept CDs. Their second album for Sony, "Bridges," contains music from the Renaissance to the late 20th century that have some kind of musical connection. "We tried to find a link between each of the pieces on the album," Wille said.

Their latest album, scheduled to be released at the beginning of 2009, will have music by Berg, Webern and Beethoven. Interweaving the music will be poetry by Bertolt Brecht recited by the Viennese actor Udo Samel.

For years, the Kuss Quartet has collaborated with Samel in a series of concerts in Berlin, and they decided that it was time for them to make a recording together. "Brecht's poetry cuts into the music we play on this album," Wille said. "We see a kindred spirit between the words and the music. The interpretation is open and there is a lot of meaning to be gotten out of this."

And while Brecht, Berg and Webern were contemporaries, the quartet also realized Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge" fit in. "We included the 'Grosse Fuge' because it belongs here. It isn't out of place but an important part of the concept behind this album."

The four players hope that the kind of recordings they want to do will also appeal to younger audiences. But they know they need to do more than just release CDs to attract a new generation of people to chamber music. So four times a year the Kuss Quartet performs in a Berlin nightclub that normally plays techno and pop music. "They never had classical music until we started playing there," Wille said. "Even their DJ plays classical when we are there."

To everyone's surprise, what started out as an experiment quickly took flight. "We have lots of young people come to the club when we play, and they focus in on what we do." And the response is overwhelmingly positive. "When we take our bows, they scream just like at a rock concert. It's fantastic."

Kuss doesn't have any intention of replacing traditional concert halls with nightclubs, though. "We do different programs in the club than in the concert hall. We want to get people interested in classical music. We want to show them that chamber music can be modern and fresh, and that the string quartet is not just stuck in the 19th century."

If you go ...

What: Kuss Quartet

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

How much: $25 general admission, $5 students

Phone: 581-7100

Web: www.cmsofslc.org


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com