miro quartet

Running the gamut with Beethoven

The Miró Quartet and violinist Jennifer Frautschli time-travel audaciously with the Big B. at Chamber Music Northwest

To borrow from Henry James, there are times when Beethoven has nothing to say to us, and those are our worst moments. Chamber Music Northwest and the Miró Quartet are in the midst of two performances titled Beethoven’s Progression – the program opened Monday night at Reed College and repeats Tuesday evening at Lincoln Performance Hall – that give a look into the composer’s evolution, contrasting his early and most popular septet with a later, largely shunned string quartet. Part of a season-long exploration of Beethoven’s music, it’s also a preview of Shifrin and the Miró’s collaboration with actor Jack Gilpin on the world premiere this Friday of playwright Harry Clark’s theatrical work An Unlikely Muse: Brahms and Mühlfeld.

In our times the artist who perhaps most resembles Beethoven is painter Chuck Close. Close suffered a spinal artery collapse in his late 40s that has left him mostly paralyzed. His early works are large photorealistic portraits that dive straight into the psychology of his subjects: forceful and assertive observations about the conflicts between body, heart, age, and desires that fluctuate in the human mind. After Close’s accident he stayed with the canvas, but used his limited mobility not only to break down into atomic precision the colors in their composition, but also to dig the knife deeper into the mindsets of his subjects.

The Mirò Quartet: down in the trenches with Beethoven.

The Miró Quartet: down in the trenches with Beethoven.

Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 and String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127 give us a similar handle on the composer. The Septet begins as a playful match among strings, woodwinds and horns. Beethoven takes a cavalier delight in matching tempo wits with Mozart, the older master’s snappy rests with the strings that take us from lullabies to the sound of young girls learning how to be coy. Where Mozart makes bubbling play with his sounds, knowing he is creating delight for us mere mortals, Beethoven is looking at the intellect that could create such revolutionary nuance.


Chamber Music Northwest reviews: Pros and Proteges

Seasoned veterans and rising stars bring elegance and energy to classics


The Emerson Quartet is always popular with Chamber Music Northwest audiences, and this year was no exception, with both shows sold out. It’s easy to understand why. They don’t engage in theatrics or other behavior worrisome to CMNW’s core demographic, nor do they play up the darker sides of their repertory, but they do deliver some of the most elegant, lovingly detailed performances around. I caught them on July 11 at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, where they played the first of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s landmark “Haydn” string quartets, K. 387, a late Mozart string quintet (K. 614) with the able partnership of Paul Neubauer’s viola, and Maurice Ravel’s only string quartet.

 Emerson String Quartet played Mozart & Ravel at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson

Emerson String Quartet played music by Mozart and Ravel at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Mozart’s six “Haydn” quartets are a celebration of the growing friendship between the composer and Joseph Haydn, who established the string quartet in its preeminent position in the world of classical music. They are also an homage to the older composer, one which Mozart, who was capable of tossing off a masterpiece in days, worked on carefully for over three years. The result is one of the pinnacles of the string quartet repertory, and the Emerson was in their element performing the first quartet, sometimes subtitled “Spring.” It flows and bubbles along, allowing listeners to either abandon their cares to it as on a fine spring day, or revel in its abundant compositional subtleties. The group provided all that could be desired for either kind of listening. Its finely-honed sound filled Kaul well, possibly aided by the group adopting soloist positions, all performing standing up except for the cellist.


Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cook. Credit: Nick Granito

With this summer’s fascinating Portland International Piano Festival ending last weekend, and Chamber Music Northwest wrapping  up this Sunday, Portland classical music fans face a period of recuperation from this month’s flurry of fine concerts and will just have to settle for the gorgeous weather that we’ve earned after this sodden spring and winter.

But first, tonight’s CMNW’s final Protege Club showcase (featuring extraordinary young performers) is sold out, and tomorrow night’s Chris Thile/Edgar Meyer show was canceled, which is why we didn’t taunt you by previewing them. That leaves a dwindling number of tickets for Sunday’s closing CMNW concert, a tribute to festival founder and violinist Sergiu Luca, that includes the Miro Quartet and several of the Proteges (including Yale University’s Wanmu Percussion Trio, who contributed to a riveting rendition of Bela Bartok’s landmark “Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion” Thursday night), plus festival stalwarts David Shifrin, Fred Sherry and so many others — and, happily, mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke, a first-season CMNW artist who gave a ravishing account of Johannes Brahms’s two songs for alto, viola and piano Thursday night.  I’ll have a lot more to say about the revitalized CMNW and PIPF, soon.

If you miss out on Sunday night’s CMNW concert, you can catch Classical Revolution PDX performing music by Philip Glass that evening at 6 pm at PDX Pop Now. Or head east to catch the Arnica Quartet at emeritus Oregon Repertory Singers artistic director Gil Seeley’s new Gorge Music Festival.

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