The Miró String Quartet | Melvin Chen, piano

Daniel Ching, violin
William Fedkenheuer, violin
John Largess, viola
Joshua Gindele, cello

Melvin Chen, piano

Sunday, June 30, 2012, 4 pm

“England and Romanticism”


String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, “Serioso” (1810)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Allegro con brio
Allegretto ma non troppo — Attacca
Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
Larghetto espressivo — Allegretto agitato

Piano Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 47 (1842)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Sostenuto assai — Allegro ma non troppo
Scherzo — Molto vivace
Andante cantabile
Finale — Vivace


Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Minor, Op. 84
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Moderato — Allegro
Andante — Allegro

next week

Saturday, July 6, 11 am:
YOUNG PEOPLE’S CONCERT: Eribeth Chamber Players

Featuring Music of Benjamin Britten

Admission is free for all young people under 16.
These wonderful concerts, long a Maverick tradition, are designed for enjoyment by school-age children.
Adults pay $5 each.

Saturday, July 6, 6:30 pm:
ACTORS & WRITERS | Noteworthy Shorts:
The Music Plays

Continuing Maverick’s theatrical tradition
and heritage, members of this prestigious group are
onstage again, this time with multiple original
short plays with a musical flavor.

Admission is by contribution only and Maverick
tickets are not valid.

Sunday, July 7, 4 pm: Shanghai Quartet
Music of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Dvořák



Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


Founded in 1995 at the Oberlin Conservatory, the Miró Quartet (Daniel Ching, violin; William Fedkenheuer, violin; John Largess, viola; and Joshua Gindele, cello) met with immediate success, winning top prizes at the Coleman, Fischoff, and Banff Competitions, and receiving the Naumburg Award in 2000. In 2005, the Quartet received the Cleveland Quartet Award and was the first ensemble ever to be awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant.

The Miró quartet has performed at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic’s Kammermusiksaal, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, Italy’s Festival Internazionale Quartetto d’Archi Reggio Emilia, the Dresden Music Festival, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Palacio Real de Madrid, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

The Miró Quartet serves as the faculty string quartet-in-residence at the University of Texas at Austin. The ensemble has been quartet-in-residence at the Lincoln Center’s CMS Two, and was named to the Distinctive Debut Series of Carnegie Hall, which in conjunction with ECHO, the European Concert Hall Organization, led to their debut performances in Cologne, Stockholm, Brussels, London, Vienna, Amsterdam, and Athens.

In recent seasons, the ensemble has collaborated with such artists as Leif Ove Andsnes, Joshua Bell, the celebrated British percussionist Colin Currie, Eliot Fisk, Lynn Harrell, Midori, Jon Kimura Parker, pianist Shai Wosner, and Pinchas Zukerman. The Miró Quartet appears regularly at the Orcas Island, Santa Fe, Sunflower, and White Pine summer festivals.

The Miró has been heard on American Public Media’s Performance Today and Minnesota Public Radio’s Saint Paul Sunday, as well as on radio networks across Europe, Canada, and Israel. The ensemble has also been seen on ABC’s World News Tonight and A&E’s Breakfast with the Arts. At the invitation of Isaac Stern, the quartet performed in a live broadcast at the Jerusalem Music Center in Israel and was featured in the PBS-TV American Masters documentary Isaac Stern: Life’s Virtuoso.

The Miró Quartet has commissioned and performed music by such composers as Brent Michael Davids, Leonardo Balada, Kevin Puts, Chan Ka Nin, David Schober, and Gunther Schuller.

The Miró Quartet is named after the Spanish artist Joan Miró, whose surrealist subject matter, drawn from the realm of memory and imaginative fantasy, comprises some of the most original imagery of the twentieth century.

As a soloist and chamber musician, Melvin Chen has performed at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, the Frick Collection, Kennedy Center, Boston’s Jordan Hall, and other major venues in the United States, Canada, and Asia. His solo recording of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations was praised as “a classic” by the American Record Guide.

He is an alumnus of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two. He has performed at Bravo! Vail, Music Mountain, Chautauqua, and other major festivals.

Mr. Chen holds a bachelor of science in chemistry and physics from Yale, a doctorate in chemistry from Harvard, and a double master’s in piano and violin from Juilliard. He is associate professor of piano and deputy dean at the Yale School of Music, and is the artistic director of the chamber music program at the Hotchkiss Summer Portals. Previously, he was on the piano faculty at the Bard Conservatory, where he was associate director.





The String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, which Beethoven himself gave the title “Serioso,” is more idiosyncratic and introspective than previous works. This is the last string quartet from what is called Beethoven’s middle period, and it is full of intense contrasts in mood.

The opening gesture of the first movement (Allegro con brio) is followed four bars later by the same theme moved up a halfstep into a major key—a surprising modulation for that era. Melodic sections are periodically interrupted with sharp forte exclamations. There is very little transitional material, and the final cadence is extremely brief by Beethoven’s standards.

The second movement (Allegretto ma non troppo) starts with a descending scale motif by the solo cello that returns several times throughout the movement. After a melodic passage, the viola introduces a fugue on a chromatic theme. The earlier theme returns and is further developed, but the cadence is merely a brief respite, followed immediately by a diminished chord that drives us forward into the next movement.

The third movement (Allegro assai vivace ma serioso—fairly lively but serious) gives the quartet its name. Here the stormy sections start, with dotted rhythms and abruptly stopped chords. The contrasting B section has a fluid theme that is played by different instruments in turn. This movement is in the form of a scherzo, but instead of ABA (scherzo-trio-scherzo), Beethoven makes the pattern ABABA. The battle between dark and light moods requires more than just one confrontation.

The final movement starts slowly (Larghetto espressivo), followed immediately by a fast, tense section (Allegretto agitato). The same isolated notes and abruptly stopped chords can be found here, but sometimes they are jarring and at other times the harmonies give them a light, dancing feeling. The cadence changes the key from F minor to F major, and the coda gives us even faster runs and dramatic crescendos before racing to the loud, bright finish.

Robert Schumann went through cycles of great creativity, often in specific genres. After a decade in which he produced mostly small works and songs, his wife Clara encouraged him to work in larger forms—that is, pieces with several movements rather than miniatures. He devoted the year 1842 to orchestral works, including two symphonies and a piano concerto, and the Piano Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 47.

The slow introduction (Sostenuto assai) offers simple notes and chords that set a majestic background for the Allegro ma non troppo with its lively interplay between the piano and the strings. Staccato runs and scales form the basis of the theme. The slow passage returns and serves as the transition to the development section, which takes the theme into the minor and adds grandeur and passion.

In the Scherzo (Molto vivace), fast runs give a feeling of perpetual motion. This is interrupted first by a lyrical but still moving section, then by a series of syncopated block chords—a sort of off-the-beat skeleton of the lyrical section. The fast eighth notes return to complete the frame.

The slow movement (Andante cantabile) gives the melody to the cello, at first solo and then in duet with the violin. The lilting 6/8 meter gives the song a wistful quality, like a lullaby, and the movement ends with isolated single notes fading into silence.

Schumann was a great admirer of Bach’s contrapuntal works, and he includes a fugal section after the opening chords of the Finale (Vivace). This becomes a recurring theme, giving the movement a free rondo form. The meter alternates between 3/4 and 4/4, with sections of legato melodies providing internal contrast.

Sir Edward Elgar started composing music before he learned how to write musical notation. He took violin and piano lessons, but was largely self-taught. Nevertheless, he became a teacher of piano and violin, a university professor, a noted conductor, and the greatest English composer of the age. Elgar’s first success came with the Imperial March, composed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (1897). His fame became even more widespread when his Enigma Variations premiered in 1899 to great acclaim.

Elgar’s wife Alice, a published novelist, knew he was depressed after the Great War, and that he was not happy living in London and composing patriotic music. So Alice moved them to a cottage in the Sussex countryside, and there he composed his great chamber works, including the Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Minor, Op. 84. Close to the Elgar’s cottage stood a grove of dark, misshapen trees. Legend had it that they were reprobate Spanish monks turned into old, dead trees as punishment for performing satanic rites. This legend became part of the inspiration for the Piano Quintet.

The first movement (Allegro moderato) opens with an eerie piano introduction, accompanied by short, hesitant bits on the strings. A sort of second introduction follows, with a sad, legato, “sighing” line—like wind through the trees. The Allegro proper consists of powerful phrases. Elgar creates a full, almost orchestral sound, even with this small ensemble. A new theme appears, with a Spanish sound and some pizzicato (plucked) strings in imitation of a guitar. Even the piano uses a chord pattern typical of the guitar. The eerie opening becomes the germ for a fugato (fugue-like) treatment, which is developed and combined with the sigh and the Spanish song.

In the slow middle movement (Adagio), the strings offer a poignant melody with lush harmonies. The music rises to several impassioned climaxes, and the spookiness and drama creep in from time to time, but in the end, the soulful song holds sway.

The finale (Moderato—Allegro) opens with the eerie theme from the opening movement, then presents a grand, dramatic theme in 3/4 time. A second subject enters, syncopated and lighthearted at first, then more agitated. Snippets of material from other movements are brought back and woven together into a grand tapestry.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg