The members of Austin, Texas' Miró Quartet have lent their educated ears and contemporary tastes to classical music audiences for over two decades. Their programs are always a refreshing mixture of great masterworks from giants like Beethoven as well as contemporary music—such as on their incredible 2003 recording of George Crumb's discordant Black Angels. Founding member and cellist Joshua Gindele spoke with SFR to discuss the current state of classical listenership and the quartet's unique approach to selecting music for modern audiences.
SFR: The quartet has a long relationship with Santa Fe. Is this an exceptional town for classical music performance?
JG: It's actually kind of astonishing, because Santa Fe is the only town of its size that I know that has one of the biggest, most flourishing chamber music festivals in the country, as well as one of the great opera festivals in the world. Between St. John's College, the Lensic and other performance spaces in town, it's pretty extraordinary. And people definitely turn up for concerts. We've been playing in Santa Fe for 19 or 20 years, and I can't recall a single concert that wasn't very well-attended and well-received.
Do you notice a wide range of people coming to your concerts? I always hear people say that young people don't listen to classical music; is there any precedence to those claims?
We're a little on the younger side, even though we've been around for 23 years. People relate to us—especially people who are 30, 45 to 50—which classical music deems as 'younger.' At the same time, we teach at the University of Texas and we've found that classical music, in some ways, has become more prevalent among young young people; 18 to 22. They realize that most movie and TV soundtracks are classical. They're able to find it more readily on streaming platforms. It's just become more approachable because it's easier to get. You don't have to spend a lot of money to listen to Beethoven anymore. That is, unfortunately, at the loss of the artist in a way, because we don't get paid nearly as much now as we once did for recording and producing albums. For a lot of people that's a real problem, especially in the pop world, but in the classical world in some ways I think it's a good thing just because young people are generally listening to more classical music.
Do you see an increase in concert attendance by young people correlating to that accessibility?
The streaming phenomenon hasn't existed that long, and most of the people who grew up with that don't have a lot of discretionary money to go see the symphony orchestra. My belief is that once that group ages into having a little more income, I think we'll see an uptick in their attendance of classical concerts.
The Miró Quartet has always performed contemporary composers' work in addition to pieces from over centuries' worth of music. Why is it important to include modern music in your programs?
For me, it's one and the same. If there weren't people commissioning work from Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart, they wouldn't exist either. There were benefactors and sponsors that were making those composers famous as well. It's always been a big part of our mission. We [have] averaged about a commission and a half a year over our career. We've been very committed to making sure we continue to play new music and that we bring new pieces into the world regularly. We do so with our own approach and ear, so we commission composers that we feel like have a voice that we want or that needs to be heard. That ear is probably a little different than some other quartets, but that's what allows music to be diverse and broad. I think a lot of [modern music] holds up to these great masters. That's the thing audiences need to see. They need to see Michael [Ippolito's] piece against the Dvořák Cypresses to show that these modern pieces are approachable and listenable, and people shouldn't be afraid of them.
What is your process in curating a program of music for an audience?
We're doing more of a cabaret-style program in Santa Fe—a lot of different short works. As far as the curatorial aspect, we want to play stuff that we believe in and that we feel passionate and strongly about. That's the primary goal because if we're not committed to it, then we're not going to play it with as much enthusiasm and love as we might for pieces that we do feel really crazy about. That's a big part of it for us: just kind of staying true to what we believe in as a group artistically. That guides how we put the program together.
Is there any desire to educate the audience? For example, do you specifically try to play pieces that are less known, even if they are by one of the more well-known composers such as Schubert?
We play a lot of early Schubert that people don't know. In the program in Santa Fe we're playing the unfinished second movement of Quartettsatz—people don't know he tried to write a second movement and wanted it to be part of a whole string quartet. He kind of stopped right in the middle of the second movement. Composers like Michael Ippolito, who's just starting to gain some prominence but is someone we've believed in for some time. We're playing Cypresses, a lot of people know Dvořák but people don't know these songs … because he wrote them early in his career. It comes from us discovering things that we think are great, but it's maybe an opportunity for an audience to know that Puccini did indeed write movements for string quartet. [Educating] becomes part of it—a talking point more than anything else. We wouldn't play it unless we believed in it.
Miró String Quartet
3 pm Sunday Jan. 13. $12-$80.
St. Francis Auditorium,
New Mexico Museum of Art,
107 W Palace Ave.,