Slowly, responsibly, and surely, the Miró Quartet is mounting their virtual return to the live stage.
Beginning July 16 the Miró will be continuing its 25th anniversary season with 12 live-streamed concerts that, piece-by-piece, cover the entirety of Beethoven’s String Quartet cycle.
Earlier this year, before the pandemic, the Austin-based quartet had already touring and celebrating the recent release of its box set of Beethoven’s string quartets, which fittingly coincided with the composer’s 250th birthday year.
But as their previously-arranged engagements started dropping off the calendar, as well as other major events around the world, the quartet began to see the trajectory of how this would affect the arts world, as well as their careers.
Miró cellist Joshua Gindele, recalls that “as things started getting postponed or rescheduled, we were meeting every week virtually as a quartet and with our agent. By late April, we realized that everything at least through the end of the summer was going to be cancelled and that we had to pivot and try to figure out what the best course of action for the quartet was.”
Soon quarantined in their homes, the foursome each continued to teach virtually-remote lessons as the faculty quartet-in-residence at the University of Texas, but hung up any immediate ideas of rehearsing as a group.
“Everybody was trying to do this distanced-ensemble thing, and we just thought it didn’t work,” says Gindele. “So we put together a couple of YouTube videos, but they were just sort of tongue and cheek. It was more so that people would remember we were there and remember that we were kind of goofy and didn’t take ourselves too seriously.”
After lots of quality family time — and recreating classic quartet literature on Japanese automotones — the quartet began to plan a return to rehearsals as usual, with the unfortunate, and completely necessary caveat of regular discussions on quarantine practices.
“We have in the group one degree of separation from people that are fairly high risk, and so we wanted to make sure that everybody was observing a quarantine that was strict enough for people to feel comfortable to get together,” says Gindele.
“As an example, I took my family and kids down to Port Aransas a few weeks ago. My quartet would ask ‘Tell us about the trip — who’s going, what are you doing, are you going to go to restaurants?’ They wanted to know the details so that they knew they were not putting themselves at risk. We’re having those hard discussions all the time right now.”
The Miró’s most recent rehearsals have been in anticipation for their upcoming multi-week performances of Beethoven’s String Quartet cycle, performed live via the online performance streaming platform Ourconcerts.live. The concert series is also made possible by the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival (OICMF), which was originally set to host this performance pre-pandemic.
“OICMF approached us about trying to figure out a way to salvage the performance, and at the same time our manager John Zion and a tech partner formed this company and created Ourconcerts.live,” says Gindele. “He manages a lot of artists and he wanted an option for the artists and presenting-organizations to continue to perform, earn revenue, and connect with their audiences with live events, not pre-taped not YouTube projects, but something that’s actually live.”
The performances will broadcast live via a high-grade multi-camera and microphone set up, as well as produced in real-time by professional audio engineers and video editors. The Miró will use a private performance space in Austin. In prepping for the performance, the quartet found themselves needing to develop skills not usually expected from classical quartets.
“We can’t count on anybody to set up audio and video for us because we are in the middle of a pandemic,” says Gindele. “So we have to set up all of the cameras, make sure they’re connected to a high speed internet connection, and that we understand all the technology a lot more thoroughly.”
The live-remote format of the performance will also allow the Miró to include dynamic elements to the presentation such live spoken-preludes for each concert in which the quartet will discuss the repertoire, establishing a connection with their audiences that is often missing from typical live streamed performances.
The challenge of this new kind of format, Gindele says, is that “we have a million ideas, but we also have to play 16 very difficult Beethoven string quartets over the course of the month! So we also need to make sure that we’re not juggling so much and we’re not doing so many extra curricular things. We’re there to play a great concert first and foremost and then all the other stuff needs to fall into place behind that.”
The series will take place over four weeks with three concerts a week, each concert clocking in at about an hour — a more chronologically-economical format than how a performance of the Beethoven quartets would usually be organized. The flexibility and creativity that the Miró, Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, and Ourconcerts.live is utilizing in this presentation is something that Gindele believes will be necessary for many ensembles to storm these unsure times in classical, and in music at large.
“We were one of the first American quartets that got back to rehearsing, and that surprised me a little bit because it just sort of showed that when this whole thing happened, people just sort of sat and waited,” he says “I fear six to 12 months from now there’s going to be a lot of regional orchestras and string quartets that had good careers but will just be gone, and we’re going to have a glut of musicians who are trying to figure out how to salvage a livelihood in the arts.”
Gindele hopes that in our gradual return to live performance — and after we have all had more experience living in a society where the consumption of live music is not guaranteed — patrons will be more generous than ever.
Says Gindele: “Because they will realize how much they missed it when it was gone.”