The Miró Quartet at Maverick

I’ve always been a bit strange. When I was growing up, while my peers were busy buying the newest CD of the latest pop sensation, I was asking my mother for a box set of music by Debussy or Ravel. I’ve always loved classical music, and I feel fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to it from an early age. One place that I frequented as a child is Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, NY for its Young People’s Concerts series. Another place I used to go to for concerts and other cultural events is The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. The latter is where I first saw the Miró Quartet perform, back when I was about 14 or so, although I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the quartet several times since them. Last Sunday was like a merging of memories, for the Miró Quartet was performing at Maverick.

String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”
Ludwig Van Beethoven

Allegro con brio
Allegretto ma non troppo – Attacca:
Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
Larghetto espressivo – Allegretto agitato

String Quartet No. 5
Philip Glass

I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.

String Quartet in G Major, Op. post. 161, D. 887
Franz Schubert

Allegro molto moderato
Andante un poco moto
Scherzo: Allegro vivace – Trio allegretto – Scherzo
Allegro assai

Suspenseful to open, Beethoven’s string quartet flies as though on the wings of a banshee. The music is mysterious, although it’s interspersed with moments of lyrical beauty, and the movement beckons the listener. The second movement is much calmer and quieter, but it too is mysterious at times. The music is tender, if not hesitant. At the ending of the movement, the music sounds like it’s ceasing, and after a few sparse chords are played by all four instruments, it does cease. The music then changes dramatically, smoothly transitioning into the third movement. The music drives forward with surging power, and the theme is recurring throughout. It  strongly sounds, hides, and resounds strongly once more. With one last magnificent presence, the theme — and movement — is over. The last movement is flighty and seems to hold secrets of the night. Rapid, repeated notes create a sense of panic, while the harshness of the chords that are sounded only add to the drama of the music. After slow chords, the music changes. Incredibly fast notes are played, running up and down the neck of each respective instrument until the end.

Played without breaks between movements, Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 5 is a work which, although it does have separately listed movement, is really just one continuation of a spark of thought. There are many levels to the music, which is thick with nuances and character. Behind the main layer there are sublayers, and beyond those are more sublayers still. The piece is sheer creation, full of wonder and imagination, and the music invites the listener to take part in the adventures it embarks on. After a short introduction, the music explodes. Cello rocks back and forth between strings, creating a bass for the soaring melodies played by the other three instruments. The second movement is reminiscent at times of a locomotive engine in motion. Although a relatively modern piece, and modern-sounding, the music still resonates with a grace and maturation just like the works of the great composers of older generations. The music becomes slower and slower until only a sustaining note played by cello remains, ushering in the next part of the piece which is an elaboration of the preceding music. The music climbs, falls, climbs, falls once more, time and time again. All sound is then silenced momentarily. When the instruments begin to play again, the mood is quite different. The notes are played more gently at first, but quickly return to the rising and falling waves of sound. From there the music continues to change, evolving into a glorious and gallant song played by all four instruments. The sounds produced are some of the deepest and richest I have ever heard. The notes are continuous, cello lending brilliant tones to the similarly brilliant violins and viola. Despairing notes are then heard in between plucked notes bittersweetly resounding in the still air. It is plucked notes that close the piece, sweetly played, the music finally having found its peace.

Schumann’s quartet opens with light chords. Then, in the background, cello quietly plays like thunder rolling in. The storm doesn’t come to fruition, however, until later in the piece. Although the music of the first movement does become overcast, it retains a mainly sunny disposition. Violin plays with immense grace, as do the other instruments which decorate the violin’s melody. Dancing along on the waves of the wind, the music captures the essence of the contrasts of life and is most intriguing. The second movement opens tenderly. The music then becomes more severe,  the instruments playing in a strict sounding, dancelike manner. The music is somewhat hostile, yet also oddly hypnotic. In the third movement, the music bounces from instrument to instrument but the cello shines beautifully, as does violin. Darting here and there, the music nimbly runs onward. It’s elusive, always just out of reach. That said, the music is perplexing in a most fascinating and wonderful way. It runs from the listener, yet also pursues them. After a playful beginning, the music calms for a while, playing a soaring legato song with brilliant lyricism. The music swiftly changes again, however, elusive once more. There is a definitive shadowy power in the music, one that forcefully demands that its presence be made known in the mind, ears, and heart. Although there are also moments of clarity in the movement, they eventually succumb to the force of the darkness, the haunting quality overtaking all else. Briskly played, the Allegro final movement runs in a long stream of sound. Bordering on violently fast, the music is constantly spiraling. Like a tornado, the instruments churn out the notes that are in their path. The music is mesmerizing, and you can’t help but be drawn in. The music is gripping but charming, full of contradictions that ignite the spirit. Onward the movement progresses, and closes with a rousing finish.

At the end of the concert, the crowd was overcome. Someone even yelled “Bravo!” before the last note of Schubert’s quartet had sounded! When it had, the rest of the crowd joined the premature shouter in yelling praise to the musicians, praise they well deserved. To behold the Miró Quartet is to witness a force beyond the physical. Their timing is perfection, as is their execution. The quartet’s playing is filled with energy, whether the music is tense and full of anticipation or soft and gentle. They create personality from the music on the pages, and the music is consequently full of personality — as it should be, yet all too often isn’t. As I stated earlier, seeing the Miró Quartet at Maverick was a merging of memories, but it was much more than that. It was an afternoon full of passion and vigor, one that left a new memory in my mind (and a wonderful memory, at that).

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