The maiden voyage of the Cret String Trio

Cincinnati Union Terminal by Paul Cret

The spring recital is back! Please set aside Saturday, March 9th. Tickets go on sale January 30st but seating is limited since it will be held in a private house. It is the first tour of the newly created Cret String Trio with Becky Anderson and Alan Richardson joining me. Becky came to the summer festival for a few years and we love working together and decided to found a group to play together during the year.

The Cret String Trio

How does one come up with a name for a new ensemble? There are composers, of course (for example, the Borodin and Berg String Quartets), artists (Miró), Institutions (Juilliard, Curtis), violin makers (Guarneri), myth-related names (Avalon, Artemis), or sometimes a group is named after a member of the ensemble (Hagen, Chilingirian, Takács, Ying). Locations work (Tokyo, Budapest, Quartetto Italiano, Danish) and there is a group named Quartuor Sine Nomine (“quartet without a name”) but oddly, architects haven’t yet made the cut. Until now.

Paul Phillippe Cret (1876 – 1945)

Paul Phillipe Cret taught at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, where I also went on to found the chamber music department. He designed many striking civic buildings in Philadelphia and around the US. Architectural historian, Witold Rybczynski (who also teaches at Penn) wrote a terrific profile of Cret:

Born in Lyon, Cret arrived in Philadelphia in 1903, where he was offered the position of assistant professor of Design. The early twentieth century was a period of ferment in American architectural education. Professional atmosphere and apprenticeship culture in higher education was gradually shifting towards an academic approach—because of this, Cret was not only an architect, but also an educator and scholar.

Over time, he established his own style, one that closely mirrored that of a French atelier, which is a private workshop where the artist and students worked together to produce designs. Aside from this studio, he lectured on the history of art and the philosophy of architecture. In the evenings, students were able to attend the additional ateliers he hosted. These were open to all practicing architects and draftsmen who hoped to develop advanced skills.

The early twentieth century was also a period in which burgeoning city growth was coming under the control of city planning. Belonging to a generation of architects who believed they had a civic responsibility, Cret treated architecture as a medium of public expression. Serving on a city–appointed art jury that weighed in on the design of public buildings, he also drew up many original designs himself. In these, he brought his French heritage of boulevards, vistas, monuments, public buildings, and gardens in hopes of transforming the relentless rectangular street patterns so characteristic of nineteenth–century American cities.

Cret's designs illustrated his conviction that architectural pieces should serve as public art that forms part of the city's landscape. Works were meant to be functional and modern in spirit, demonstrating his respect for the styles of his own time, but they were also rooted in his rich knowledge of the history of architectural design.

For Cret, modernism made its way into nearly all his work, which expanded past the city of Philadelphia. In D.C., the Pan American Union, Folger Shakespeare Library, Federal Reserve Board Building, and Cret's bridges and roads all bear witness to his skill. Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, he left behind the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Henry Avenue Bridge over the Wissahickon, and the Hershey Community Center Building. His work spans the country, even crossing the Atlantic with his Chateau–Thierry American Monument in France.

The Rodin Museum, in the heart of Philadelphia,
is an oasis of calm in the chaos of the city
Rodin Museum, interior

There is an elegance and beauty in Cret’s work; while it packs an emotional punch on a monumental level, he never forgot how humans inhabit space. Even on a structure as immense as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which spans the Delaware river from Philadelphia, PA to Camden, NJ, he made a point to create intimate spaces for a person walking the bridge to stop and reflect. If there is one quality that spans all his buildings, it is he always gives one the opportunity for contemplation, to be alone with one’s thoughts without feeling dwarfed or in awe.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, PA to NJ
Human touches amongst the grandeur:
the pedestrian path was deliberately placed well above the roadway so that pedestrians can enjoy a quiet, contemplative walk far from the roar of vehicles below

As a man, Cret was a generous teacher with a feeling of obligation to community. The words which stand out to me in the Times article are “civic responsibility” and “rooted in…history” yet “functional and modern”: these qualities approach what I see as my own role as a musician and what I enjoy in new music.

The National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historic Park honors the arrival of George Washington and the Continental Army

Next week, I’ll share more on the program for the March concert but for now, please set aside Saturday, March 9th.

David Yang, Artistic Director

Cret’s Chateau-Thierry Monument in France
commemorates allied sacrifices during the
Aisne-Marne and Oise-Aisne offensives in WWI
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