The Violin Channel recently caught up with Joshua Gindele - cellist with the American-based Mirò Quartet.
The Mirò Quartet are currently performing the complete Beethoven String Quartet cycle live from the 16th of July to the 8th of August as part of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival – streamed exclusively on OurConcerts.live.
Tell us about your recent ‘Complete Beethoven Quartets’ projects. This is a mammoth undertaking to record all 16 quartets plus the ‘Große Fuge’ and to then livestream them all over a 3 week period. How does one prepare for such a huge challenge?
"Playing the Beethoven Cycle under any circumstances is always challenging: it’s a physical challenge to your body, a mental challenge because of the level of complexity of the music, and even an emotional challenge because the range and intensity of feelings you experience as you perform these pieces, especially the late quartets, can be draining ... in this case we prepared with a long break (due to Covid) followed by 6 weeks of rehearsal leading up to it"
When recording the quartets to CD, how did you go about this? Did you record them chronologically? What was your methodology?
"Our original idea was to record the quartets when we were the same age that Beethoven was when he wrote them, and this was true for our recordings of opus 18 and opus 59, 74 and 95.
We decided that we didn’t want to wait until our late 50s to get to the late quartets though, we felt up to the emotional challenge! Also we were eager to deepen our experience of these late works through studio time.
So overall we recorded the Beethoven discs more or less chronologically, though the late quartets differ from one another in length so much that we tried to spread the load out over about 3 years in 4 different sessions, and didn’t record them in the strict order of their opus numbers, or the order of their composition"
You are currently livestreaming the complete cycle on the ourconcerts.live platform over a 3 week period, as part of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival. How does one prepare mentally and physically for the need to have so much repertoire at your fingertips?
"We have been truthfully preparing our whole career for this.
Some of these Beethoven quartets were among the very first pieces we played together and we have been honing them now for almost 25 years. But to prepare the moment for a cycle now we need a certain amount of personal practice and group rehearsal time beforehand so every piece feels fresh and recent in the groups‘ fingers and memory, and then after that it’s really important for each of us to show up to concerts well rested and focused on the work ahead.
You can’t strong arm your way through the Beethoven cycle, or you might come out injured"
Also, due to the COVID situation you streamed the first two weekends of concerts from your home. What challenges did this present and how did you overcome them?
"Of course performing from ones home adds difficulties that you’d never have on a normal concert night before going out on stage: where’s the dog and is it going to bark? Where are the kids and will they be quiet? Is that the violist’s sweaty socks on my bathroom floor? Who knew that the sunset light would shine right into camera #4 at 8pm?
It’s been a lot of adapting and learning as we go, but I think each night our comfort with the technology and how to make our lives work around it at home grows"
How did you go about technically skilling up with camera and microphones for such an undertaking?
"It has been a steep learning curve! Luckily our first violinist has always been very IT oriented and has mostly enjoyed working with encoders, digital cameras and sound set ups.
The biggest challenge is that our tech support people and sound and visual directors aren’t in the room with you...they are wired in remotely from New York, LA, Chicago what have you. So every adjustment to the mics or a camera has to be explained to us, executed by us on site, then checked by them from afar.
It can be cumbersome and time consuming even once you figure out how to set up the equipment to get the fine adjustments needed for the best sound and visuals"
What have you learnt from the overall experience?
"I think what’s amazing is how well the intimacy and intensity of this music translates across a live stream. Over and over our fans tell us “it’s better than a concert hall...it’s like you’re right in my living room!”
This is a testament to the image and sound quality but also to the power of the livestream format to translate the immediate freshness of live classical music.
It is also a testament to Beethoven, that hid music can touch you so viscerally no matter what medium you choose to experience it in"
If you had to guess how many hours you have each spent in your career preparing for this project, what would be your estimation?
"That’s almost impossible to quantify: certainly it has been already thousands of hours learning and rehearsing and performing and recording these 16 pieces specifically together over the last 25 years... but really any time we rehearse any quartet music together we bring that experience to Beethoven.
You could even say that any emotional experience that is meaningful to us in our lives as people we also bring to our interpretation Beethoven and find it mirrored there. So maybe the best answer to that question of “how many hours?” is “every hour we are alive as human beings helps us prepare for Beethoven!”