The Sault Canada Algoma Conservatory Concerts have a well-deserved national reputation for sustained, often stunning classical music excellence. The Austin, Texas based Miró Quartet and their September 15 performance in the gorgeous, timeless Mill Square Machine Shop added further lustre to this remarkable Series history.
I am not a classic music expert. My passion for noisy, rambunctious punk, new wave, and rootsy rock makes for an admittedly thin resume when commenting upon the Miró program. Their concert selections included Mozart’s ‘The Hunt’, a commissioned work by American composer Kevin Puts (‘Credo’), and Robert Schumann’s ‘Quartet in A Minor, Opus 41, Number 1’. A spritely, humorous Beethoven encore capped a terrific evening. There was subtle, but unmistakable warmth and a welcoming feel to everything the Quartet did on this night. I felt at one with them as these accomplished, and confident musicians took an appreciative Sault audience through each piece – a very pleasant experience all round.
The next morning, Quartet cellist Josh Gindele and John Largess (viola) kindly took time from their busy touring schedule to chat about my concert impressions. As someone who has associated their home base with the long-running, and excellent PBS ‘Austin City Limits’ weekly series, I wondered about Austin and Miró’s place as its University’s String ‘Quartet-in-Residence’. Josh explained that the University was not only a classic musical crucible. Over time, the University has built a formidable opera and performing arts base, luring newcomers from both US coasts who now give Austin a more cosmopolitan feel. The four Quartet members also reflect this fact, each with different home cities, education, and playing careers before Miró was founded in 1995.
I was particularly intrigued by Credo. Violinist William Fedkenheur had introduced the piece to the Concert audience, and he told us how Kevin Puts’ compositions had been inspired by circa 2005 – 2006 America. Public opinion was badly divided then, as seemingly interminable, dispiriting foreign wars and bitter political battles were the norm (then as now, perhaps…). It was also a time of rising stock markets and swaggering, deal making merchant bankers. In Credo, an amazing series of quick, frenetic notes struck me as capturing the national mood, with the ceaseless pursuit of profit, and hives of business activity that died in the 2007 global financial crisis aftermath.
Alan Greenspan ran the US Federal Reserve then. He said ‘irrational exuberance’ drove the markets to their doom (conveniently leaving aside years of Fed policies that encouraged these investor attitudes), but I saw this Credo segment as a perfect reflection of Greenspan’s description. When I had heard the notes tumble forward from the Quartet the night before, and later thought about their meaning, my favourite Midnight Oil tune, ‘Forgotten Years’ burst into my mind. The Aussie rockers’ lyrics mirror the powerful Credo vibe, ‘…. The hardest years, the darkest years, the roarin’ years, the fallen years ….. the wildest years, the desperate and divided years – we will remember…’
Josh and John spoke of Kevin Puts’ passions, and how Kevin harnesses them with honesty and conviction in his compositions. It is clear that personal emotion profoundly shapes the thought-provoking Credo arrangements. They agreed that the tumultuous present day US society might inspire other similarly powerful modern classical works. It is not surprising that Credo is a permanent, and much-anticipated fixture in the Quartet repertoire by Miró audiences everywhere.
We also discussed the Quartet’s signature recording project, a forthcoming (November 2019) release celebrating their 25th anniversary. John and Josh each spoke of the wider mission that the Quartet tries to advance with its music, and the altruistic notion (as I paraphrase their words), that there is more to their work than concerts, commercial success, or international acclaim. Interesting thoughts that give the Miro Quartet another attractive dimension. I hope that I see them again during the 2020 Algoma Concert Series – and beyond.