In the Mir& %s; String Quartet, youth and lusty playing rush headlong into sophistication and consummate classical skill.
Thursday, March 14, 2002
Photo: Strings Attached--the members of the Miro String Quartet--clockwise from upper left Joshua Gindele, Daniel Ching, Sandy Yamamoto and John C. A. Largess--are artist faculty at Kent State University, and travel and teach together during summers.
Among the myriad technical details accurately presented in the movie Titanic was the depiction of the ship''s resident string quartet. Even as chaos rages around them, the four musicians continue to perform. But after being jostled by terrified passengers they decide to call it quits. Then, one violinist begins to play by himself. Soon he is joined, one by one, by the three other men, until all are playing together.
This poignant scene, tucked into the larger spectacle of the sinking ship, reminds us that the string quartet is at heart a musical conversation, a dialogue of equals that depends on partnership and compromise. It is not surprising that the genre of the quartet arose in the eighteenth century, that hopeful era of enlightened reason and rational thinking--qualities that, judging from current events, would now appear to be on the decline.
On Friday, the celebrated Miró String Quartet, a youthful American group the Los Angeles Times enthusiastically described as "hot-blooded," will offer a wide-ranging program at the First United Methodist Church, in Pacific Grove. Named after the Spanish Surrealist painter Joan Miró, the quartet was created in 1995, in Oberlin, Ohio. The group lost little time in racking up an impressive list of prizes, commissions, and glowing reviews. Despite their rapid rise in the musical world, including a spot on the recent PBS profile of Isaac Stern, they have remained strongly committed to education and outreach. Currently professors at the music school at Kent State, they have also joined the Grand Canyon Music Festival in a project that aims to teach Native American students to read and write music. During their visit to the Central Coast, they will meet with middle school music students at the Santa Catalina School and offer a short concert at the assisted living residence at Carmel Valley Manor.
This emphasis on education and outreach is a guiding principle to Chamber Music Monterey Bay President Amy Anderson, who wanted to schedule the Miró from the moment she first heard them two years ago at a music conference in San Diego. Anderson, herself an accomplished cellist, remembers with gratitude the strong music programs and summer music camps her California public school education made possible in the ''50s and ''60s. Due to continuing budget cuts, few young people today have the chance to benefit from such opportunities. Yet group music-making encourages the kind of complex mental and emotional development all children need. Anderson says that playing, say, in a string quartet, in which everyone''s voice is equally important, means "learning how to listen, to work with others, to discuss, compromise, build consensus. You learn to express emotion together, to work out conflict. It''s a total experience of life."
The Miró''s program on Friday will feature three very different works. Beethoven wrote his Quartet in F Major, op. 18 # 1, in 1801, very early in his career, and this sunny, expansive work radiates with a certain Viennese warmth and charm. Its second lyrical movement was said to be inspired by the story of Romeo and Juliet.
Edvard Grieg''s String Quartet, op. 27, in the more brooding key of G Minor, was composed in 1878, shortly after he had written his Peer Gynt Suites. Grieg''s music is remembered for its passion, not its subtlety, and his quartet does not disappoint: It is a sprawling, dramatic work that incorporates Norwegian folk rhythms, thick orchestral textures, and a tempestuous spirit, concluding in a veritable gallop of musical agitation.
The third piece on the program, the String Quartet # 3 by Chan Ka Nin, offers a breathtaking look at what 21st-century music will sound like. The composer was born in Hong Kong and moved to Canada with his family nearly 40 years ago. He now teaches at the University of Toronto. This quartet, which will receive its Central Coast premiere at Friday''s concert, is a recent composition, yet it already has the earmarks of a classic. Chan Ka Nin wraps thrilling sections of urgent Western sounds around a more tranquil core of traditional Chinese melody, making of the piece a stunning musical allegory of global culture, in which homeland identities are not lost, but may be buried under the new cultural layers one acquires in an adopted country. Near the end of the piece, the Chinese elements are woven into a driving beat, and it appears that all of the quartet''s energies will be scattered off in different directions, like immigrants far from their ancestral land. When resolution finally does come it is powerful, and, one senses, earned.
Resolution is something that music does well, and in this time of unbearable conflict around the globe, the truly civilized nature of the string quartet can provide a model for what can be accomplished when people are willing to sit down, talk to each other, and listen.
The Miró String Quartet will perform at 8pm, Friday, March 15, at the First United Methodist Church, at Sunset Drive and 17 Mile Drive, in Pacific Grove. Call 625-2212 for tickets.