[ Interviews: Faculty & Artists ]

The Miró Archive Project:
Celebrating the Past in the Present

July 11, 2019

The Miró Quartet brings the Miró Archive Project, a celebration of influential string quartets who shaped chamber music today, to the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival on July 20.

Sometimes repeating the past is exactly the right move to make for the present. The Miró Quartet plans to prove that point as they enter their 25th anniversary season and pay homage to the string quartets who helped to shape both the Miró’s history and the history of string quartets — indeed chamber music — in America.

The year-long celebration, known collectively as the Miró Archive Project, will celebrate the works of three quartets — the Kneisel Quartet, the first truly American quartet; the Flonzaley Quartet, the first modern recording quartet; and the Kolisch Quartet, the first American quartet devoted to contemporary music. On July 20, the quartet will recreate a concert performed by the Kneisel Quartet.

“We weren’t just looking at unusual programming concepts [for our anniversary year] but also at celebrating the history of American string quartets,” says cellist and founding member Joshua Gindele. “We were looking at our mentors and their mentors and seeing how they did things, and paying homage to that rich deep history of string quartets in America.”

The Kneisel Quartet’s place in chamber music history is without question. “The Kneisel Quartet was the first professional touring quartet in America,” he says. “As pedagogues they were big influencers.” Franz Kneisel was head of violin department at The Juilliard School. He also founded Kneisel Hall, a chamber music festival in Maine. The quartet also started one of the first subscription chamber music series in the U.S. 

The Kneisel also programmed concerts in what Gindele calls a “more salon way. It was a more fun, approachable type of programming,” he says. “They were not just doing large works, but doing a movement of this, a movement of that.”

That approach meant that Kneisel concerts often included a solo piece for member cellist Alwin Shroeder. (Cellists reading this will recognize that name for the books of etudes they worked through as students.) “Sometimes it was a solo Bach movement,” Gindele says. “Sometimes show pieces. I like that idea. I thought it would be fun for me to do. I play a concerto here or there but I never get to go out on the stage and do a solo piece.”

In the July 20 concert, Gindele will play Servais’ Fantasie Sur Deux Airs Russes, Opus 13. Largely forgotten now, Servais wrote flashy fun works, Gindele says. “For me it was kind of appealing to bring a composer back to the fore who is a little forgotten.”

Gindele says this style of programming has challenges beyond his cello solo. Switching gears from one composer to another with potentially very different styles, for instance, can be tricky. “Keeping the level consistent over the program is challenged,” he says, as is “switching characters quickly. After 12 minutes of Franck, you have to switch your mindset quicker.”

In addition to the Servais, the concert will include Mozart’s String Quartet in B-flat Major, K 458, “The Hunt”; the Andante from Gliere’s String Quartet in A Major, Opus 2; the  Scherzo from Franck’s String Quartet in D Major; and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in d minor, “Death and the Maiden.” It is a concert the Kneisel Quartet performed at the Schubert Club during that quartet’s 25th anniversary season in 1910.

The Miró chose this particular Kneisel program in part because of its own relationship with the chamber music society in St. Paul, Minnesota. “It’s a series we have a longstanding relationship with,” says Gindele, “and as the oldest running chamber music society in U.S., it brought all these pieces together. It celebrates the history of the string quartet and this incredible series that’s been there so long.”

Gindele anticipates that the Miró Archive Project will influence the quartet beyond its 25th anniversary season. “It will be great to experience the quartet from a different lens,” he explains. “It will let us be more open and creative when we think how we will program for the future.”

By Janet Reynolds

Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.