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April 5-12, 2006

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Miro Quartet

I'll be your Miró: The quartet gets ready to roll over Beethoven at UCSC.

Miró Turns 10

The acclaimed string quartet revisits its early repertoire

By Scott MacClelland

In Carmel, one routinely hears chamber music programming of the sort that the Miró Quartet will play for UCSC's Arts & Lectures this Thursday. But it is rare indeed to hear such fare in Santa Cruz, particularly by an ensemble with the stature of the Miró. How statured? For starters, they are the only chamber ensemble to win, in 2005, the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, until then reserved for individual artists of exceptional professional achievements.

For their 10th anniversary season, the Miró are playing two of the six Opus 18 string quartets by Beethoven--which they have just recorded for Vanguard--plus Schubert's Quartet in D Minor, "Death and the Maiden," which won them the Banff International String Quartet Competition in 1998. Competitions like that demand hyperintense concentration, meaning extraordinary rehearsal discipline--basically, the ability of four people to play as one.

"The presenter chose the program from several we're currently touring," says Miró cellist Josh Gindele. "Part of our 10th anniversary tour was to revisit repertoire we started with, and the Schubert was one of the first pieces we learned."

The quartet came together in 1995 at the Oberlin Conservatory, where the players were students together. They struck gold almost immediately, winning the 50th annual Coleman Chamber Music Competition in April 1996, and the following month, both the first and grand prizes at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. In 2005 they received the Cleveland Quartet Award. But for all those years together, Gindele says, the Miró four still haven't learned and performed all the works in the repertoire, which includes quartets by Brahms, Schumann and Mendelssohn and one Beethoven.

In addition to other competition awards, and numerous residencies, the Miró Quartet is currently faculty String Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Texas at Austin. The members teach and coach chamber music there, while continuing an international touring schedule, which included last summer's [email protected] Festival, where they joined the Emerson, Miami and St. Lawrence string quartets in surveying all 16 Beethoven quartets.

In addition to their new Beethoven CD, the Miró recently recorded George Crumb's Black Angels for Bridge Records and joined cellist Matt Haimovitz to record Schubert's Quintet in C for the Oxengale label.

On being reminded of the large following for new music here, he added, "We have two new commissions available as well."

One of their new commissions is a collaboration with guitarist Eliot Fisk for a quintet by Catalan-born Leonarda Balada. The work, based on Catalan themes, will be premiered this summer in Austin. (Fisk lived in Barcelona for a time, the exuberant city that claims the surrealist artist Joan Miró, the quartet's namesake, as a native son.)

The other new piece is the Tinnitus Quartet by Brent Michael Davids, premiered in 2005 by Miró. (Davids is a "Stockbridge" Mohican whose Mohican Soup was sung by Chanticleer at Woodstock, and who composed The Last of James Fennimore Cooper: By a Mohican for the Miró.) Why Tinnitus? "It was written as a companion to the Smetana Quartet in E Minor which ends with a relentless high E that the composer suffered before becoming deaf," explains Gindele. "Even though he's only in his 40s, Davids has that condition, in one ear, that is constant and louder to him than a power lawnmower." Last October in New York, Miró played both works, plus the Beethoven op. 6, no. 6, which was written at the time that composer began to complain of the same condition. Although the quartet won't be playing those new pieces on this occasion, that's just one more argument for a repeat appearance soon.

Miró Quartet performs Thursday, April 6, 8pm, at UCSC Recital Hall. Information at UCSC Ticket Office, 831.459.2159.

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