Rob Gebelhoff

World-Class Quartet Comes to Town

The Texas-based Miró Quartet makes its Milwaukee debut at Frankly Music series.

By - Mar 6th, 2014 12:05 pm
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Frankly Music will  present the Milwaukee debut of the international Miró Quartet as it comes to play at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy of the Miró Quartet.

Frankly Music will present the Milwaukee debut of the international Miró Quartet as it comes to play at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy of the Miró Quartet.

The heart of Frankly Music, of course, is violinist Frank Almond, concertmaster with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, who founded the series that plays on his name. But Almond has also used it to bring top chamber musicians to town, even if it means he won’t be playing.

A case in point: this week the series features The Miró Quartet, which serves as the quartet-in-residence at the University of Texas in Austin. The ensemble, founded in 1995, maintains worldwide acclaim, boasting such awards as first place recognition at the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Naumburg Chamber Music Competition. This is their first-ever appearance in Milwaukee.

The quartet also has an impressive recording history, including their latest CD featuring Franz Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.” The work become a favorite for the group’s musicians, and will be included on its Milwaukee program, which also includes performances of Joseph Haydn’sThe Lark” and Philip Glass’ Quartet No. 5.

“All three composers were great masters of their time, and all three of these works are some of the greatest works they wrote,” says cellist Joshua Gindele, one of the founding members of the quartet. The group also includes violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer and violist John Largess.

“It’s one of the five greatest pieces even written for a string quartet,” Gindele says. “I discover something new every time I play it. There’s never been a single instance in the hundreds of times I’ve played it that I felt like I was working.”

Although Schubert’s work was little-known in his lifetime, the 1824 quartet quickly became a cornerstone of the chamber music repertoire. The four-movement masterpiece was composed based off a lied that Schubert created in 1817, derived from a poem written by Matthias Claudius. The work is centered on a woman who is frightened by the prospects of death.

Cellist Joshua Gindele. Photo courtesy of the Miró Quartet.

Cellist Joshua Gindele. Photo courtesy of the Miró Quartet.

“It became a staple of string music because the characters are so beautifully written and clearly defined,” Gindele says. “The music that sounds somewhat hurried, frantic and scared is the maiden’s music. The comforting, peaceful, beautiful parts are death.”

The quartet begins with a unison D played in fortissimo, evoking a terrifying mood that persists throughout the work. But the harsh and jolting notes often subside, transitioning very rapidly into a tranquil pianissimo. The shifts between the two moods represent the characters of the narrative, which in many ways, reflects on Schubert’s life at the time.

Infected with a serious illness — generally believed to be syphilis — Schubert wrote this work as he realized he was on the verge of death. That, on top of a waning music career, puts the dramatic shifts throughout the piece into context.

“Some of the most beautiful music written is actually death speaking,” Gindele says. “It’s kind of a scary character, but because Schubert is facing his own mortality, he realized he couldn’t be afraid of it and had to accept it. He ended up being comforted by it.”

Audiences, he says, will get a whole lot more out of the concert if they reflect on Schubert’s message: that death is something to embrace and not fear.

This piece is among the works by Schubert that posthumously pushed him onto a pedestal above most classical musicians, with a power that makes it a great choice for an ensemble introducing itself to Milwaukee audiences. “We should move them,” Gindele says. “That’s what we’re always trying to do.”

The concert is at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 7 p.m. March 11. Tickets range from $10-$30 and are available on Frankly Music’s website.

Other events coming up:

Temptation’s Snare by Present Music

Among other things, Present Music artists pride themselves on taking once new and edgy works that have since become classics and making them new again. This week’s performance, “Temptation’s Snare,” is a perfect example.

The ensemble will take Igor Stravinsky’s challenging theatrical septet, The Soldier’s Tale, and mix it up a bit. New pieces based off of the original score created by the New York-based, Sleeping Giant composers collective will be interspersed into the work, adding a contemporary edge to Stravinsky’s creation.

Choreographed by Danceworks Performance Company’s Dani Kuepper and narrated by special guest Jason Powell, the musical story tells of a soldier getting caught up in a tempting deal with the devil: all the riches in the world for his beloved fiddle. The faustian story is an old one in music literature, but this will be a completely original retelling of the tale.

The performance is at the Next Act Theatre at 7:30 March 6-8 and at 2:30 March 9. Tickets range from $20-$35 and are available on Present Music’s website.

Works with Friends by the Bel Canto Chorus

The themes of sacrifice, loss, sadness and redemption take center stage at the Bel Canto Chorus’ next concert, which features two choral masterpieces: James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross and Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna.

Audience members will have the chance to dive into the challenging meditations of these two composers as they reflected on death and the afterlife, while at the same time enjoying the beauty of the event’s venue: the Basilica of St. Josaphat.

3 p.m. on March 9. For more information, visit the Bel Canto’s website or call (414) 481-8801.

Chorale Collaboration by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra

Artists at the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra take on another genre of music this week as they join local singing groups for this week’s “Chorale Collaboration.”

The Falls Baptist College of Ministry Concert Chorale, Hartford Union High School Concert Choir and the Milwaukee Choristers will take the stage with the MYSO at the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts this Sunday.

3 p.m. on March 9. For more information, visit the MYSO’s website.

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