Ruth Crawford Seeger isn’t as well-known as her stepson folk singer Pete Seeger, who performed with Bruce Springsteen at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

People who are aware of Crawford Seeger may know her best for the American folk songs she transcribed, for use in educating children. 

But to musicians like the members of Craft Ensemble, which will play in Salem on Saturday, Crawford Seeger is an important composer whose String Quartet from 1931 is revered.

“There’s a cult following for Seeger’s quartet,” said Amelia Hollander Ames, who plays viola for Craft Ensemble. “The piece itself is very out there, and the first of its kind, really.”

Craft Ensemble will perform at the recently renovated St. Peter’s Church at 3 p.m., with a program that includes String Quartet No. 1 by Sergei Prokofiev, which was also written in 1931.

Prior to the concert, the group will donate time to play for the residents of Brookhouse Home, an assisted-living residence for women in Salem.

Craft Ensemble has been together since 2016, after Ames, violinists Amy Sims and Colleen Brannen, and cellist Velleda Miragias all met in a master class led by Benjamin Zander, founder and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

Most quartets are formed in music school, Ames said, when there is plenty of time to experiment. But the members of Craft Ensemble, who all play for a range of classical groups in Greater Boston, got together when they were well into their careers. 

“The name was something we like both for its multiple meanings, and for how it represents our desire, amidst busy freelancing and teaching careers, to focus together on the actual craft of music-making,” Ames said. 

Saturday’s show at St. Peter’s is the last in this year’s Salem Classical series, which was founded in 2015 by promoter and producer Richard Guerin, and the ensemble’s visit marks a return to the city.

“We had them previously to do things like the huge Schubert double-cello quintet,” Guerin said. “They have also come to perform Fanny Mendelssohn’s quartet, as well as music by Caroline Shaw, as part of their desire to play as much music by female composers as possible.”

This past Wednesday, Craft Ensemble was joined by cellist Rebecca Thornblade at Mandarava in Newburyport to perform Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, aka the “Cello Quintet,” which was his final chamber work.

While seeking in part to revive neglected works such as String Quartet by Crawford Seeger, who died in 1953, the ensemble also plays new works. 

“As musicians out there and about, we have a lot of friends who are composers, so some of the earliest pieces we played are by Caroline Shaw,” Ames said, naming the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for music in 2013. “We did a program with three works of hers for quartet. Caroline, I met in New York when I was living down there.”

They have also performed works by Jessie Montgomery, a violinist and composer with whom Ames went to school as a child and teenager in New York.

“One we did recently was called ‘Source Code,’” Ames said. “It’s very meditative. She calls it ‘Source Code’ based on the idea of an African American spiritual — she took it and said, what if I spread this across the page, deconstructing it?”

Crawford Seeger, who attended American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, was the first woman to win a Guggenheim fellowship, which allowed her to spend 1930 visiting major composers in Europe. 

But after writing the String Quartet, Crawford Seeger got married in 1932 and then had four children — while also caring for three stepchildren — and didn’t write another original work for years. 

“Part of the story I had heard was that it was because of her husband, who said a wife and mother doesn’t compose crazy music,” Ames said. 

Crawford Seeger’s String Quartet is an avant-garde work that is dissonant without being too harsh, Ames said, while creating its own, unique world of sound.

“It is very atonal,” Ames said. “It’s also, I think, every atmospheric, in its very American way, doing what some of the French impressionist composers like Debussy and Ravel were doing, but it feels very experimental.”

Ames has known the String Quartet for 20 years and said that when she listened to it in college, she felt that every instrument was playing to a different metronome.

“It sounded like everybody was following their own path,” she said. 

Ames described the last movement as “this kind of crossing” in which three instruments gradually change places with the fourth.

“She starts off really loud and becomes softer as we’re going loud,” she said. “It feels like the patriarchy is trying to conquer this one character.”

The work by Prokofiev was written while he was living in virtual exile from Russia and also features radical techniques, which Ames said sought to “take the materials down to the bare essence.” 

The second movement especially is “really athletic, very expressive, very precise in what he asks for,” she said, while the third movement is “heartbreakingly slow.”

“He was very homesick when he wrote it,” Ames said. “I think it was right around the time he tried to get back home.”

She thinks the fact that Prokofiev later revised that movement, and incorporated it into a symphonic work, shows how much it meant to the composer.

“When a composer revisits his or her own music — Bach did it all the time, Shostakovich did it with several of his themes — it stands out, that he did that with that movement,” Ames said.


If you go

What: Craft Ensemble, presented by Salem Classical

When: Saturday, 3 p.m.

Where: St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 24 St. Peter St., Salem

How much: $15 in advance at and $20 at the door

More information: 


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