Miró String Quartet and
Shanghai String Quartet

Miró String Quartet and Shanghai String Quartet
McCullough Theatre
Austin, Texas

It is a rare treat to witness the performance of a world class string quartet on stage. It is an even greater treat to watch the performance of two world class string quartets on stage together. McCullough theatre was completely full on a Friday night with concert-goers of all ages. The semi-circle of eight empty chairs and music stands on stage were soon filled with eight men in black suits holding polished orange instruments. From left to right sat the two pairs of violinists, then the two violists, and finally the two cellists on the far left—a typical octet setting. They took a breath together in the split second before the rosin hit the string and Shostakovich’s “Two Pieces for String Quartet” began. As the harmonies beautifully leapt and flowed between the instruments of the octet, it became hard to imagine that these two quartets did not perform together all of the time.

Dan Welcher’s “Museon Polemos” (“War of the Muses”) followed the Shostakovich piece, and it truly stole the show. For quite a few reasons, it was very different than the Shostakovich piece and the Mendelssohn piece that was to be played after the intermission: the eight players were rearranged to sit in two straight rows of four, angled in a wide upside-down V facing the audience with about a 4 foot gap in between each row; the two quartets sat apart from each other; it was the piece’s world premiere; and the composer was in the audience. Before the quartets played the song, they called the composer onto the stage for recognition and a chance to speak his thoughts and thought process on the music. He explained that this song and seating arrangement reflected two warring personalities, one aristocratic and one rough and bold. The performance was playful and a bit theatric as the quartets flaunted and challenged back and forth. With its unique style and intriguing themes, “Museon Polemos” was a great way to end the first half.

After the break, the octet returned to their original formation and performed Mendelssohn’s “Octet in E flat major, Op. 20.” Again the quartets’ talent showed through as the melodies swept through each of the instruments. The night ended in standing ovation after ovation for the three truly impressive exhibitions of performance and composition.

by Olivia Lin