Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 12, 2022

REVIEW: Valley Classical Concerts, Miro String Quartet

Smith College, Northampton, MA 
December 11, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Miro Quartet
Founded in 1995, based in Austin, Texas, and named after groundbreaking Spanish surrealist artist Joan Miro, this probing and polished ensemble brought musical comfort with a varied selection of quartets from three centuries to an enthusiastic audience which braved a snowstorm to see them in the warm acoustics of this 600-seat venue.   

Opening with the light-hearted fiftieth (in B-flat Major, Op. 64/3) of Franz Joseph Haydn’s sixty-eight string quartets set a welcoming tone of high spirits for the afternoon. In the Miro’s virtuosic account of this 1790 score, the “Vivace assai” first movement was fleet and forceful, the “Adagio,” tender and flowing, the “Menuet and Trio: Allegretto,” playful and boisterous, and the “Finale: Allegro con spirito,” a headlong romp. 

First violinist Daniel Ching then introduced “Home,” a single-movement quartet written in 2019 for the Miro’s 25th anniversary by American composer Kevin Puts, whose latest opera, “The Hours,” just debuted at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Reflecting the worldwide refugee crises of recent years, the 15-minute piece questions the very meaning of “home” in today’s world. 

From a peaceful start, which depicts, in the composer’s words, “an idealized version of home,” through a harrowing middle section to a conclusion of hard-won but unsettled consonance, the Miro played this powerful and touchingly accessible music with almost unbearable intensity. Cellist Joshua Grindele and violist John Largess provided notably solid rhythmic support. 

Closing their program with the dramatic thirteenth (in G Major, Op. 106) of Antonin Dvorak’s fourteen string quartets guaranteed that the Miro would send their listeners home in an upbeat mood. Their full-blooded rendition of this 1895 masterpiece featured a vibrant “Allegro moderato," a somber “Adagio ma non troppo,” an urgent “Molto vivace,” and an exhilarating “Finale: Andante sostenuto – Allegro con fuoco.” 

After tumultuous applause, second violinist William Fedkenheuer introduced the Miro’s heartwarming seasonal encore, an arrangement by their composer friend Joe Love of Franz Gruber’s classic carol, “Silent Night” (also the title of Puts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2011 opera about the 1914 World War I Christmas truce).

Next up in their 2022-2023 season, Valley Classical Concerts will present pianist Orion Weiss, violinist William Hagen, and cellist Nicholas Canellakis at the Bombyx Center in Northampton on January 15, 2023.