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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Miró Quartet / Saturday, March 8, 2014
Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violin; John Largess, viola; Joshua Gindele, cello

The Miró String Quartet

A MUSICAL MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 8, 2014

For their March 8 concert in Occidental, the Miró Quartet played something old (Haydn), something new (Dutilleux), something borrowed (Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," based on his song of that name) and something blue (a colorful encore). Having fulfilled the terms of a proper wedding gown, they offered their listeners the sonic equivalent of marital bliss.

The listeners were many. The Occidental Center for the Arts was completely sold out, and a few extra chairs were brought in. The size of the audience bodes well for the venerable Redwood Arts Council, which was in dire financial straits last year but appears to have recovered thanks to an outpouring of community support. If the Council continues to mount concerts as stellar as this one, their future looks bright.

"Stellar" is just one of many adjectives inadequate to describe the musicality and accomplishment of the Miró. Formed in 1995, they have refined their unanimity of sound and expression through years of practice and extensive touring. Their members--four youngish men--appeared on stage in identical black suits with identical thin black ties and proceeded to play as if they were just one person with eight arms instead of two.

The "something old" opener was Haydn's familiar "Lark" quartet, Op. 64, No. 5. Like the bird of the title, first violinist Daniel Ching sang out from the opening bars, exhibiting a muscular tone and refined expressivity. The acoustics in the hall are excellent, and every instrument could be heard distinctly, from the full sonority of the cello to the perfectly blended middle instruments and the soaring first violin.

Every aspect of the Miró's sound was impeccable, including the wonderful swells, the precisely controlled tempi and the razor-sharp intonation. Mr. Ching in particular displayed an astounding fluidity of tone. Playing entire sections from memory, he seamlessly transitioned from the soloistic passages in the first movement, to the serene melody of the second, the infectious dance of the third and the furious perpetual motion of the last. Not to be outdone, his colleagues proved every bit his equal. It was a zesty performance, full of life.

For "something new," the Miró chose Dutilleux's "Ainsi la nuit" (Thus the night), composed in the 1970s. As noted in the introductory remarks by violist John Largess, Dutilleux was strongly influenced by the Impressionist composers and by Marcel Proust, whose concept of memory is reflected in the structure of "Ainsi la nuit." Central to that concept is the use of "parentheses" before each movement that offer a preview of events or a recollection of previous events.

The result of all those influences is a haunting seven-movement work that evokes the night amid a constant play of memory. The transitions between movements are subtle, and there's only one genuine break in the entire piece, between two movements called "Litanies." The musical elements are reminiscent not only of Debussy and Ravel, but also of Bartok, whose influence can be heard in the extensive use of harmonics, trills, plucking, tremolo and glissandi.

Among the many questions prompted by "Ainsi la nuit" is what constitutes a musical line. Much of the quartet consists of fragments passed from one instrument to the next, congealing briefly and then dissolving. The Miró displayed great sensitivity in connecting these disparate dots, moving forward through the work with assurance and a keen knowledge of its unusual structure. In the final "Temps suspendu" (Time suspended) movement, they held their concluding poses for a long time before signaling the end.

Thoughts of time and mortality also permeated the second half of the program, given over to Schubert's monumental "Death and the Maiden" quartet, whose central theme is borrowed from the composer's song of the same name. Before the performance, cellist Joshua Gindele explained that Schubert wrote the quartet with full knowledge of his impending death, and that the work is filled with contrasts between the calming voice of death and the desperate pleas of its pending victim, the maiden.

The Miró highlighted these contrasting moods throughout the work. Their playing in the first movement was fiery, with strong inner voices and an uncanny balance between all four parts. This balance became literal in the drone-like beginning of the second movement, where all four played the melody of "Death and the Maiden" essentially in unison before dispersing to enact its variations. They were so locked in to the performance that the sudden appearance of a loud siren from outside the hall left them unfazed.

"Intensity" was the operative word for the Miró's performance. Moving on from the angelic variations of the second movement, they gathered intensity in the brief Scherzo and then achieved maximum engagement in the concluding Presto. Their playing was heroic, with explosive but fully controlled power. They even smiled toward the end, where the constant shifts between minor and major suggest optimism even in the face of doom.

Called back to the stage repeatedly by a standing ovation, the Miró offered "something blue": the fragmentary Andante from Schubert's unfinished string quartet in C minor, D. 703. Just two and a half minutes long, the fragment begins with gorgeous writing for all four instruments and then trails off with a brief solo for the first violin. It leaves one begging for more. In the case of Schubert, that will never happen, but the Miró may someday oblige. Their return to Occidental would be more than welcome.