The Miro String Quartet at Maverick

I remember seeing a string quartet at The Rhinebeck Performing Arts Center when I was younger. I can still recall the first violinist telling the audience how his father, a violinist, had put a violin alongside him in his crib when he was a baby (the instrument was the same size as him…). He began playing violin under the guidance of his father at age 3, and when he was 5, he entered the San Francisco Conservatory Preparatory Division on a full twelve-year scholarship (um, wow!). That was the last time I saw that quartet. Until Sunday anyway…

I’m talking about the Miro String Quartet. I saw them again for the first time since 2001 at Maverick on Sunday, closing out my season at the Maverick (although there are still two more concerts there, plus the Friends of Maverick Concert, I just can’t make it to any of them). The Miro String Quartet was formed in 1995 at the Oberlin Conservatory, and since then they have won numerous prizes and competitions. The Miro Quartet is comprised of Daniel Ching (the aforementioned first violinist); Sandy Yamamoto on violin, John Largess on viola, and Joshua Gindele on cello. What an afternoon…

String Quartet No. 1, “The Revival Meeting”
Charles Ives

Chorale: Andante con moto
Prelude: Allegro – Allegro con spirito – Quasi andante
Offertory: Adagio cantabile – Allegretto -Andante con moto
Postlude: Allegro marziale – Poco andante con moto

String Quartet
Claude Debussy

Anime et tres
Assez vif et bien rythme
Andantino, doucment expressif
Tres modere – Tres mouvemente et avec passion

String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, “American,” Op. 96
Antonin Dvorak

Allegro ma non troppo
Molto vivace
Finale – Vivace ma non troppo

The first movement of Ives’ quartet opens with the cello playing solo, before being joined shortly by viola. Then second violin joins the two, and finally first violin enters as well, as they all play together in beautiful harmony. In the middle of the movement the music becomes full of tension. It then pauses for a split second, before resuming with the calm beauty of the opening. The second movement starts out very spirited, and with uneasiness… It then becomes quite hymnal. As the music becomes louder and louder, it all of a sudden pauses – similar to the first movement – although this time for a few seconds. When the music starts again, it is to unexpectedly play slow chords, bringing the movement to a close. The third movement, Adagio cantabile, is full of pizzicato, or plucked strings, and has a charming melody. The fourth movement starts a little harshly, and is controlled. Midway, the music becomes more relaxed, yet ever growing in excitement, with gorgeous passages rising Heavenward. Finally, tremelos are played by all four instruments, and with a flourish, the piece is over.

Debussy’s quartet (the only one he ever wrote) is complex. There is swell after swell of sound as the instruments create rich tones. While first violin carries the melody, you can hear indistinct murmering by the other instruments in the background. Harsh chords interrupt, only to be overtaken by the sweet, but anxious, tune. Further unrest is later created by the cello… The Lento second movement opens with plucked strings, followed by rhythmic runs on viola, then cello, then second violin… This continues, each instrument taking turns while the others play bouncy accomponiments, and the music gallops steadily onward. The music ceases with the final notes softly plucked by all four instruments. The viola introduces the almost lullaby-like melody of the third movement, Molto vivace. It quietly progresses from it’s sleepy state into the light of dawn, although there is an essence of the darkness of night which never quite leaves the music… It casts a web of longing and intrigue over the listener, and I felt a breeze touch my face as the music gently cascaded over me… The movement faded by slipping back into the realm of thoughtful slumber. For the final movement, the music forms a downward spiral before picking itself up. It is then full of grandeur, and the instruments have intricate conversations with one another. The piece close with an upward swerve.

Last on the program was Dvorak’s “American” Quartet, written by the composer a year after he came to the US. The piece prances delicately with subdued passion interidden with gently conversational passages. It beckoned me to follow as it wove through fields of reeds, promising secrets, and dancing all the way. If the first movement came to a close still dancing in the reed fields (as it did), then the second movement, Lento, brought my me into the forest that lay beyond the field. Through mystical curtains of leaves and vines it led me, drawing ever closer to the heart of the forest, which I realized as I listened was actually my heart… The glorious melody gently cradled my mind like a canopy, and washed me of all weariness from my travels. My thoughts were interspersed with reality and fantasy – as was the music – and as the latter breathed fresh life into me, time ceased to exist. Time was then brought back to the present with the beggining of the Vivace third movement. My mind returned to the field once more, only this time, instead of a field of reeds, it was a field of Black-Eyed Susan’s. I waltzed across the acreage, whirling into a daze before falling in a heap among the flowers, and gazing into the darkening sky as the first stars twinkled at me. The music of the final movement, Finale – Vivace ma non troppo, moved into a rolling gallop, racing through the music as though there were no bars, just one effortless line of constantly moving music. I rose from my rest and ran for the last time through the field, my feet scarcely touching the ground, until finally taking flight and finding wings through the magical music. I drew closer and closer to the now present moon, spurred to finally reach it’s warm glow as the music came to a close with excitement. Am I the only one who imagines these things when I listen to music? I’m actually pretty curious. I wonder what psychologists would find if they hooked me up to an EEG machine while I was at a concert…

The Miro String Quartet was called out for an encore, for which they played the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Op. 135. As second violinist Sandy Yamamoto said, “Is any concert complete without some Beethoven?” The Scherzo was an absolute delight! The crowd was glad to hear more wonderful music from the quartet, and the musicians looked as though there was nothing they’d rather be doing. Music is their way of life, and I don’t think it really matters to them whether there’s an audience or not. And I don’t take that as an insult. I feel honored to have been part of an afternoon of great music, played by superb musicians who love what they do and can’t imagine a life doing anything else. And so lives the spirit of music, and the spirit of Maverick Concerts.

*Note: Congress awarded Maverick Concerts a matching grant of $148,000 under the “Save America’s Treasures” program. In order to recieve the grant (there are always strings attached), Maverick must match the amount dollar for dollar. Many repairs need to be done on the building. The floorboards need work, the roof and windows need repairs, etc. etc. If anyone would like to help the Maverick by sending a fully tax-deductible donation, you can send it to:

Save Maverick Match
PO Box 9
Woodstock, Ny 12498


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