Finding Home: Miró String Quartet release extraordinary recording of new music for string quartet

On Friday, May 10th the renowned Miró String Quartet released their latest recording project on the Pentatone Record Label. Called Home the album explores what home actually is; whether it be the actual physical structure we sleep in, or the surroundings we happen to be living in and the environment that shapes us. It also explores the question of what happens when the place we feel safe in is no longer safe and you are forced to leave. Will your new location ever really feel like home compared to the one you came from?

Featuring the music of Samuel Barber, George Walker, Caroline Shaw, and Kevin Puts, with a little bit of George Arlen thrown in, the CD Home features two large scale works that were written specifically for the Miró Quartet.

Caroline Shaw and Kevin Puts wrote compositions for the Quartet. Both composers have been long-time friends of the Miró Quartet, and both have composed significant compositions for the group.

Kevin Put’s composition Home, explores what it means to be forcibly driven from your home by violence and what that might mean and feel like. Puts was following the 2017 Syrian refugee crisis; and was thinking about those that fled to Europe, and the 13.5 million Syrian Nationals requiring humanitarian Assistance as of 2016 when he started work on the piece.

The quartet takes the listener on a journey. As cellist for the Miró Quartet Joshua Gindele explains, “The opening is C major, and C major represents home. It’s that feeling of comfort…it’s warm and sonorous, and he sits there for quite a long always feels very much at peace and at home. When the second movement begins we start to get some jagged edges. A little bit of dissonance starts to creep in, and you start to feel this turmoil…it becomes very thorny. He [Puts] wants to get us as far away from C major as possible…and then ever so slowly everyone starts to creep back into the C major idea…but C major is no longer the same in the last section… it has changed… just like if someone was uprooted from home and found themselves in a different place. In some ways it is sort of heroic and sort of impassioned…it doesn’t quite have that calmness when we get back to C major but it feels like we have been transformed.”

The Mirós were scheduled to have six performances of the quartet Home around the world in 2019 and 2020... They managed to do the first two live, but then the Pandemic hit, and everything shut down. This element added even more significance to the composition for the members of the Quartet. “The piece for us began to symbolize what it’s like to be home, especially for a group like ours that is so transient and always travelling…how important it is to have roots have family, friends, children and just a support system. And the piece took on an even more important role in our livres because of that,” says Gindele.

This collaboration between Kevin Puts and the Miró quartet has yielded a fantastic new work for string quartet that is a joy to listen to. The listener is taken on this thoughtful journey from safety to strife… retuning back to relative security, although significantly changed.

The other work that was written for the Quartet was Caroline Shaw’s six miniatures that make up her Microfictions Volume 1. This is music that is definitely a product of a specific time, and symbolizes the world we are currently living in. As Gindele explains, “Caroline was writing at the height of the pandemic. She was stuck in her apartment in Brooklyn. She was uninspired because she wasn’t spending time with musicians and other composers and performers…so she took to the internet…and she found a science fiction author named T.R. Darling who was using the character limits of Twitter [X] to create short works of fiction. She thought ‘this is a creative person who is using an outlet that I never thought to use to do something really fascinating.”

Shaw took it a step further, by writing her own poetry set to the character limits of Twitter [X} and also writing six miniatures for the quartet that would reflect the poetry. The result is six, charming, engaging, at times humorous vignettes for String Quartet.

Caroline Shaw and Kevin Puts are both Pulitzer Prize winning composers, as are the other two major composers on the CD, Samuel Barber and George Walker.  The Quartet has recorded Barber’s String Quartet that contains the iconic adagio middle movement that would be adapted by Barber into his iconic Adagio for Strings. The whole quartet is amazing, especially in the hands of the Miró Quartet. As Gindele points out the original version for string quartet gives the quartet a little bit more opportunity to express themselves. “The quartet version offers us a lot kore opportunity to do things with it than the string orchestra version does. We can take slower tempos…we can play a lot softer, a lot more intimately.”

The Mirós have also included George Walker’s stunningly beautiful second movement to his first string quartet. Written as an elegy to his Grandmother who was born a slave but still managed to remain strong regardless of her circumstances; the inclusion of this music adds to the overall premise of the recording.  As Gindele explains, “I do think that there is something to be said about the presence of family in the idea of home…when you have somebody that was so important to your life; like George Walker did…his grandmother raised him. He lived a really supported wonderful life with this incredible women who had witnessed so many terrible things but yet gave him every opportunity in the world…so I think this idea of memorial is really important, but I also think it is a spectacular piece of music!”

Spectacular could also describe all the compositions and the performances that are on Home. The four members of the Miró Quartet, violinists Daniel Ching, William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess, and cellist Joshua Gindele have a made a brilliant recording. Pentatone records have successfully captured the beauty and supreme musicianship that all four members of the quartet possess. It is clear that home for the Mirós is performing together and creating spectacular music.