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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Miró Quartet / Saturday, March 08, 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 08, 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.