Review: Chamber music at the Palladium
By: Lou Harry
I’m not ready to use the word “perfect” (a staple in the marketing message of the region’s new concert hall) but, in my lifetime, I honestly don’t expect to hear chamber music in a better sounding hall than I did Jan. 30th at the Palladium.
It helps, of course, when the players are as expert as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Miro Quartet, and Lynn Harrell.
CMS co-artistic director Wu Han and fellow pianist Inon Barnatan got things started with the familiar strains of “Rhapsody in Blue,” sounding freshly minted as they played together on one piano. I appreciate the ushers’ mandate to restrict latecomers from entering the hall during the piece, which kept the energy focused on George Gershwin’s energetic masterpiece. (Although, given the trek from the parking garage, forgiveness can be granted)
For the second piece, Wu Han remained onstage, joined by violinist Arnaud Sussmann, violist Mark Holloway, and cellist Andreas Brantelid for Brahms’ “Quartet in G Minor,” in which the quartet coalesced beautifully, whether playing delicate, peaceful moments or revving up to an almost silent-movie-chase energy. The audience resisted applauding after the first movement, but went against protocol by clapping in between the rest (included: Center for the Performing Arts Artistic Director Michael Feinstein and Carmel Mayor James Brainard, who sat in opposite boxes and, to their credit, avoided lengthening the show with speeches).
The two pieces combined into a long first act, leading a noticeable number of audience members to leave at intermission. Still more who hung in for the second act performance by Miro Quartet and Lynn Harrell tried to discreetly bolt between movements–which was particularly noticeable in the behind-the-stage seating.
Those who bailed, though, missed out on a seemingly effortless read of Schubert’s “Cello Quintet in C Major.” With his Bert Lahr visage and central placement on stage, Harrell had the air of a teacher whose students had excelled and become his peers. Violinists Daniel Ching and Sandy Yamamoto, violist John Largess, and cellist Joshua Gindele established a level of excellence that I look forward to seeing challenged—but don’t expect to see beat—in future events here.
In hindsight, the length of the afternoon concert was its only deficit. Either of the groups could have held the stage on its own with a satisfying two-hour experience. A half-hour beyond that was a bit trying even for those thrilled at the sounds being created.
Still, the bar has been set and the Palladium hype, in large part, justified. It sounds great to me.
To read the review in its entirety, please click here.
Review: Getting down to business, Palladium shows its star power
By: Jay Harvey
The Palladium began its history as a concert hall Sunday afternoon with a display of top-flight American artists in chamber music.
With Saturday night’s gala opening receding in a warm glow, it was as if the 1,600-seat concert hall got to work proving it deserves all of the hoopla — and the city of Carmel’s considerable investment of time and money in the Palladium and the Center for the Performing Arts.
The program was divided between the Miró Quartet, joined by cellist Lynn Harrell to play Schubert, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, featuring one of its artistic directors, Wu Han, at the piano for some Gershwin and Brahms.
As a wonderful opening gesture to the center’s artistic director, Michael Feinstein, and his devotion to the Great American Songbook, Wu Han was joined at the keyboard by Lincoln Center colleague Inon Barnatan for the four-hands version of “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The performance was both intense and devil-may-care, as the two players enjoyed the work’s teasing figuration, bluesy indulgences and the gift that Gershwin shows for making a unified statement out of several well-characterized episodes, crowned by the big, yearning tune everyone waits for whenever “Rhapsody in Blue” is performed.
The piano sounded bright and urgent in this acoustical environment; Gershwin’s accents and sprightly rhythms flexed their muscles attractively.
When violinist Arnaud Sussman, violist Mark Holloway and cellist Andreas Brantelid joined Wu Han for Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, what beguiled the ear most was the warmth of the string sound, the players’ clarity at all dynamic levels and even hints of the friction between bow and string. Though the performance was well-coordinated and the piano placed right behind the string players, it sounded a little distant and slightly boomy.
So well-turned was the delicate, fleet conclusion of the second movement that it drew a burst of applause. This could have been taken for a spontaneous display of delight, except it got to be a habit for the rest of the concert.
After intermission came an extensive opportunity to revel in expertly controlled string sound, with concert star Lynn Harrell fitting in perfectly with the Miró Quartet in Schubert’s Cello Quintet in C major.
I loved the American open- horizon feel of the first movement. Vienna could wait till the finale, when a little schmaltz was judiciously applied.
This was a performance of patience and magnanimity, animated when it had to be but chiefly attentive to Schubert’s leisurely way of building big statements — just the right sort for a splendid new concert hall.
Review: The Miró Theory: Late, Great
By: David Bratman
The Miró Quartet offered more than a chance to test a theory on Sunday at Kohl Mansion in Burlingame. The theory is critic Edward Said’s, that it’s meaningful to talk of “late style” commonalities among writers and composers working toward the end of their lives. It’s likely that both Beethoven and Schubert knew, as they worked on string quartets in 1825 and 1826 (at the ages of 54 and 29, respectively), that their physical maladies were likely to bring their life’s work to an end fairly soon.
Perhaps this affected their composition. Certainly, Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130, and Schubert’s Quartet in G Major, D. 887, have much in common, some of it pointed out by Miró violist John Largess in talking to the audience at Kohl Mansion. They’re both immensely long, large-scale works that make no concessions to conventional tastes. Neither was popular when new, but both have since come to be considered masterworks. They have melodic similarities and share aspects of harmonic structure. Scholars think Schubert probably saw Beethoven’s score — though he may never have heard it performed — and was inspired by it.
Still, they’re also strikingly different pieces, each characteristic of its composer, and particularly of his late style. Schubert’s, however intense and anguished, is almost compulsively melodic throughout, and however large and spread out, it’s still in the conventional four movements of sonata form. Beethoven’s, by contrast, is crabbed and gnomic, with baffling passages that seem to lead nowhere, like a staircase in the Winchester Mystery House, alternating with tender intervals of apparent simplicity. In its original form, as the Miró Quartet played it, with the Grosse Fuge (published separately as Opus 133) as its finale, Opus 130 has the rather Mahlerian outline of a huge opening movement, an even larger and most formidable finale, and four shorter movements of varied character in between.
The Miró played both works with utmost dedication and coordination, enveloping without overwhelming the intimate space of Kohl Mansion’s hall. As I waited in the foyer before the recital began, through the hall’s closed doors came the muffled sound of the quartet practicing over and over a tricky bitonal passage from Schubert’s Andante. It sounded perfect already, and came through even better in the concert. Ensemble was spot on, and only just the tiniest touch of timing difference between Largess and first violinist Daniel Ching in one place where they play two notes together persuaded me that these musicians are merely human.
This is one of many passages where Schubert writes mostly for the four instruments playing thematically together, and I began looking forward to these, even craving them, for the ringing harmonies that would burst out from the stage. These were the result of that perfect ensemble, not only in timing but in intonation, as well. Tempo and energy, too, were impeccable. Schubert’s finale is a fast rondo that seems to go on forever, like the finale of his Great C-major Symphony. And like that one, too, it rewards a tirelessly energetic performance like this. Just at the very end, a touch of slowing down as the music gets quieter closed it off with perfection. The Miró Quartet also solved the problem of the fecklessly innocuous trio in the scherzo movement, making it coy and beautiful, with robust solos from Joshua Gindele’s cello, and keeping the energy level up by matching the trio’s slower ¾ beat to the faster one-in-a-bar beat of the surrounding scherzo.
Passages Eerie and Fiery
As Schubert may have echoed Beethoven in his composition, so Beethoven — whose quartet we heard second — echoed Schubert in the performance. The Miró Quartet applied the same careful technique that served it well in Schubert’s trio to Beethoven’s third movement Andante, this time with the notable solos coming from Ching’s violin, caressing and accenting a cantabile passage. The Grosse Fuge is usually noted for its brutally rough outer sections; what was most memorable here were a glassy-smooth Meno mosso middle section and a passage of trills executed with the eerie precision of bees buzzing. Although the music was crisp, and the recollections of earlier passages that Beethoven inserts near the ends of several movements were as fiery and slashing as could be desired, the players tried to keep the main part of the fugue from being too harsh for comfort. They used a similar technique in the Danza Tedesca. Beethoven uses frequent abrupt changes in dynamics in this movement to keep the music off balance. The Miró Quartet tamped this down, and used tiny pauses and occasional ritards, like little swells in the current, to achieve the same effect.
Each player shone individually. Ching’s rather top-heavy sound stands out the most in the quartet. It served him well in Beethoven’s sudden exclamations and Schubert’s chittering finale. Second violinist Sandy Yamamoto gave a distinctively clipped approach to her solos. Largess played notably hairpin dynamic turns on his viola. And Gindele’s cello offered mostly a surprisingly affecting distant, ghostly sound, though, as I noted, he could turn robust when necessary.
This concert was a notable testimony for the case that the late style can be the most rewarding style, for players and listeners alike.
To read the article in its entirety, please click here.
Review: Miró Quartet And Joyce Yang Play Mozart And Dvorak In La Jolla
By: Kenneth Herman
Successful combinations of artists from the La Jolla Music Society’s stellar SummerFest roster continue to enliven its winter season. Saturday (Jan. 22) at Sherwood Auditorium, the Miró Quartet and pianist Joyce Yang joined forces in bracing, insightful accounts of Mozart and Dvorak. These young performers took shopworn scores from the chamber music catalogue—Mozart’s “Piano Quartet in E-flat Major,” K. 493, and Dvorak’s “Piano Quintet in A Major,” Op. 81,—and renewed them with consistent vigor and finesse.
I still recall the ravishing account Miró gave of Respighi’s rarely programmed “Il Tramonto” with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke at the 2009 SummerFest. From the first phrases of Saturday’s program-opening Schubert “Quartettsatz in C Minor,” D. 703, first violinist Daniel Ching’s scintillating, lyrical lead and cellist Joshua Gindele’s exuberant bass signaled Miró’s best qualities from my musical memory. Between these polar forces, violist John Largess crafted mellow, animated lines that deftly unified these disparate outer voices. Miró is clearly one of the most exciting and polished string quartets on today’s music scene.
Yang has been a formidable presence over the last three SummerFest seasons, clearly realizing the promise that garnered her the Silver Medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2005. Her patrician touch and lithe phrasing in the Mozart “Piano Quartet” complemented the Miró strings at every turn, and their spirited fusion turned the “Piano Quartet” into an idealized, perfectly distilled piano concerto. I particularly appreciated Yang’s pearly runs in the quiet Larghetto and her brilliant flourishes in the concluding Rondo.
In Lowell Liebermann’s “Gargoyles,” a showy, four-movement piano solo from 1989, she flaunted her virtuoso technique and cool control. The composer has provided bristling, perpetuum mobile toccatas to open and close “Gargoyles,” which Yang dispatched brilliantly, especially the athletic hand-crossing passages of the first movement. I admired her ease executing the third-movement arabesques, although that movement is arguably Liebermann’s weakest of the four. Otherwise, “Gargoyles” is a worthy successor to the unrelenting toccatas of Prokofiev and Ginastera from the earlier decades of the last century.
Yang faced a different challenge in the Dvorak “Piano Quintet,” having to sublimate her fire into the largely supportive role Dvorak carved out for the pianist. He gave the most delectable themes to the strings, from the cello’s heart-on-sleeve opening salvo to the viola’s tragic lament in the second movement and exuberant dance solos in the Furiant. Yet she suffused the texture with her plush sonority and propulsive rhythmic drive, giving Dvorak’s amiable confections their due.
Key to Miró’s success and distinctive identity, I think, is the manner in which these four players integrate their essentially contrasting individual colors and techniques to fashion a vibrant ensemble. This factor, along with Miró’s deft phrasing and pellucid counterpoint, certainly made their “Dvorak Piano Quintet” immensely satisfying. Other string quartets—Calder comes immediately to mind—start with more similar approaches and thrive on their unity of sound. One is not better than the other, of course: these are simply ways to distinguish these excellent ensembles.
Josh travels in style!
A private charter took us to the island! Also pictured is our UT colleague, violinist Brian Lewis and Daniel and Sandy's son, Brian Ching.
Sandy decided not to go into this store.
Article: Top 10 Dance and Classical Music Treasures of 2010
By: Robert Faires
4) MIRÓ QUARTET/LYNN HARRELL (TEXAS PERFORMING ARTS/BUTLER SCHOOL OF MUSIC) The chamber ensemble tackled Haydn and Schubert with characteristic vigor and feeling, but its reading of Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 5 was a revelation: epic yet deeply personal – an intimate quest.
10) MIRÓ QUARTET/ADAM HOLZMAN (AUSTIN CLASSICAL GUITAR SOCIETY) UT professor Holzman not only fit effortlessly into the Miró’s chamber groove, but his richly expressive guitar added new colors to the sound of their strings.
To read the full article, please click here.
Article: Top 10 Concerts of 2010
By: Georgia Rowe and Jason Victor Serinus
Miró Quartet, Music@Menlo Aug. 5
Multiple experiences with the Miró Quartet at last summer’s Music@Menlo confirmed their excellence. Textures were optimally transparent in Edward Elgar’s gorgeous Piano Quintet in A Minor, and the balance with Inon Barnatan’s wonderful pianism was impeccable. Their performance of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 was beautifully played, and equally moving. I can’t wait to hear them again at Music at Kohl Mansion on January 23. (J.V.S.)
Review: The Miró Quartet
By: Luke Quinton
The Miró Quartet is always worth watching. On Thursday night at Bates Recital Hall a healthy audience fought the chaos of parking, but were rewarded with the chaos and serenity of Beethoven.
This is Miró’s second concert in a series that will stretch over the next six years as they tackle all of Beethoven’s 18 string quartets.
A concert featuring a single composer can be draining. The tendency is for the listener to take sides, comparing one piece to the other, and there’s rarely an effective musical palate cleanser. This wasn’t quite the case, until the finale of “Op. 130,” which became a little long.
This was a long work by Beethoven, with five movements already. So when he wrote “Grosse Fuge,” a 20 minute work, as its sixth section, his publishers chopped it, and he wrote a shorter end piece.
At the end of a long concert, it seemed they had a point. Length aside, “Grosse Fuge” is an ungainly dance, and though entertaining, it was a harsh blow after “Cavatina,” the delicate fifth movement. Daniel Ching’s violin gorgeously rendered the theme, with sul tasto bowing (near the fingerboard) whose tone was impossibly beautiful and served as the evening’s highlight.
Indeed, set between dark, but sublime chords one one side, and a long rock opera on the other, Ching’s embodiment of serenity was a powerful reminder of Beethoven’s capacity for beauty and discordance. It can be a sort of bitter medicine, but Miro’s selections had effectively pulled us between light and dark all night.
In the opening piece, “Op. 14, No.1,” the fun and bright work often felt danceable, even as the winding violin parts land at a dozen false endings. This must have been high humor back in the day, and the conceit works still.
The “Op. 95” (or “Serioso,”) brought out a mania that recalls Napoleon’s rise to power, which Beethoven viewed as betrayal. It veers from much of his work, balancing bursts of passion with dissonant asides.
And “Serioso” especially brought the Miro’s strengths to light: gentle, pitch-perfect harmonies, enviable tone and brilliant balance, especially from Ching, whose violin seems always to be at the right volume.
Josh Gindele’s cello often felt like the quartet’s nimble fulcrum, which allowed for wonderful interplay between the instruments.
The encore was a graceful version of the Lento Assai from “Op. 135,” leaving an audience satisfied enough to overcome the frustration of any exorbitant parking tickets.
Luke Quinton is an American-Statesman freelance arts critic.
Check out this video of a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 95 “Serioso” from Music@Menlo this past summer!
We recently returned from a great weekend of performances and masterclasses in Memphis, TN. We had the opportunity to teach talented students at the University of Memphis Scheidt School of Music. Here are some pictures from the masterclasses!
John unlocks the secrets of successful quartet playing while Daniel tries to figure out which piece they are playing.
“SHE DID IT!”
John and Daniel make their Memphis debut as interpretative dancers.
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