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Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
Chamber
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li
CHAMBER REVIEW

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.