Perhaps it’s a testament to the energy of their performances that concert promoters and critics still like to tag the Austin, Texas-based Miró Quartet as an "emerging young ensemble."
The group has been active since 1995, and it has had the same membership for most of that period (its fees have gone up, one would assume). The quartet recently experienced its first personnel change since 1997, as second violinist Sandy Yamamoto left in order to spend more time with her two young children, and William Fedkenheuer, a former member of the Borromeo String Quartet, was hired in July after a nine-month search.
The members of the foursome – who also include violinist Daniel Ching, violist John Largess and cellist Joshua Gindele – are in their 30s. By the standards of classical music, that is young. But Gindele notes that there’s nothing like late Beethoven to make a string player ponder age.
"I don’t know why – maybe it’s just because I’m getting grayer. I find more sadness and less anxiety in the work," said Gindele, after a performance of the first movement of Beethoven's Quartet Op. 132 in the WQXR Café. "With the first movement I used to have the idea that it was a little bit anxious and there was a constant tension. Now I feel like it’s a little more settled and a little more back in its chair and a little more espressivo instead of driven."
Gindele adds that Beethoven himself “was definitely facing his own mortality at this point. He had a horrible intestinal illness that he did not think he was going to recover from."
The other members of the Miró agree that the Op. 132 carries a certain weight of time. “All these late quartets are truly autobiographical but in some ways this one has more of a personal message,” said Ching. “I feel like Op. 132 is really driven by something emotional – by what he felt like he had to get out.”
Beethoven composed the work in 1825, as his own deafness had thoroughly advanced two years before his death. Some credit this quartet as T. S. Eliot's impetus to write his poem cycle Four Quartets. In a letter, the author envisioned the piece as “the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering,” adding, “I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.”
This week at Lincoln Center, the Miró performs Op. 132 preceded by a 75-minute dramatic recitation of Four Quartets by the English actor Stephen Dillane, done from memory. Fedkenheuer, the new violinist, is unable to attend the performances due to a family obligation and violinist Tereza Stanislav is filling in. Nevertheless, the quartet is familiar with the production, having performed it at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in 2009. “It’s easier to grasp a long, complicated, somewhat heavy poem when you both have something non-verbal afterwards,” said Largess.
Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Text: Brian Wise