The Austin Chronicle

Strings Attached

The Miró Quartet launches its residency as UT's faculty string quartet

By Jerry Young, October 10, 2003, Arts

The Miró Quartet.

The name makes a great first impression: bright, warm, and sophisticated, but playful. The group is part of a second, or maybe third, generation of American string quartets following in a career path forged by the Juilliard, the Guarneri, and the Cleveland quartets, finding niches and opportunities to make it possible to survive making music as a string quartet.

So far, so good.

On Oct. 16, the Miró Quartet gives its inaugural performance as the University of Texas' resident string quartet. It's a big step for the ensemble and a first for the university, which has been conspicuously without a regular faculty string quartet for more than 35 years.

Cellist Josh Gindele and violist John Largess formed the quartet in 1995 at the Oberlin Conservatory. "We were just a group trying to earn credit for chamber music," Gindele says. "The word among students was that it was too difficult to sustain a career because the market was saturated, or so everybody thought. We learned that wasn't true, but you have to work your tail off."

First, they needed a name. "We were big fans of Bacardi rum, and we almost called ourselves the Bacardi Quartet," Gindele says. Fortunately, they were also great admirers of Spanish surrealist Joan Miró. Violinists Daniel Ching and Sandy Yamamoto soon joined, and the quartet worked out a business plan.

They executed the first stage well, winning several big competitions: the 50th annual Coleman Chamber Music Competition and the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in 1996, the 1998 Banff International String Quartet Competition, and the 2000 Naumburg Chamber Music Award.

How did they do it? "We tried to play as clean and as inoffensively as possible," Gindele admits. "It is all about technique and having some flair, but not so much that you would offend someone judging you. The way you approach a competition is not the best way to approach music, but it was a great reason to get our chops together."

Winning opened doors: national and international tours, residencies, recordings, TV and radio. Then last year the Miró joined four other chamber ensembles as finalists in the yearlong audition and selection process for the string quartet residency at the School of Music. In July, Gindele and his partners got the job, and last month they started work on the 40 Acres. Now, they're giving their first concert as the Longhorn string quartet.

Their UT debut includes Haydn's "Joke" Quartet, Prokofiev's seldom heard Second Quartet, and Beethoven's Op. 130 Quartet with its original finale. Thinking the 15-minute Grosse Fuge was too much for audiences, Beethoven's publisher convinced him to write something more traditional and published the Grosse Fuge separately. "There is something satisfying, having these short movements go by, and then you have something shocking with so much polyphony. It wraps up ideas from all of the previous movements together really tight and spits them out at you. We decided we would always play Op. 130 with the Grosse Fuge unless someone asked us not to." So far, no one has.

The Miró has reached a level of maturity and stability. Gindele and his wife have bought a home near Barton Springs, and he is enthusiastic about the possibilities. How long would Gindele like the Austin phase of the business plan to last? "Hopefully for a long, long time." end story

The Miró Quartet will perform Thursday, Oct. 16, 8pm, at Bates Recital Hall on the UT campus. For information, call 477-6060.

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