In the latest installment of our conversations with newsmakers, Joshua Gindele, cellist for the Miró Quartet, spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff about the group’s upcoming concerts featuring all 16 of Beethoven’s string quartets produced in collaboration with the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Fornoff: Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and chat with me when I’m sure you have a lot of practicing to do right now.
Gindele: You know, today it wasn’t so much practicing. I literally just got off a flight about an hour ago, so it was a very early morning and a very long flight. I’m just happy to be home.
If you go
Time: 7 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Friday
2 p.m. Sunday. Full schedule here.
Date: Nov. 7, Nov. 9-11 and Nov. 13
Location: The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
3200 Darnell St., Fort Worth, TX 76107
Tickets: $10 per student; $35 general admission per concert
Or $50 student; $175 general admission for the full cycle. Available here.
Fornoff: You and the three other members of the Miró Quartet are about to embark on this five-day marathon of concerts performing all 16 of Beethoven’s string quartets. For people who haven’t picked up an instrument since elementary school or who haven’t picked up an instrument ever, I’m curious if you can put into perspective what preparing for something like this is like?
Gindele: We’ve done this a number of times in various parts of the world, in various amounts of time. Sometimes it’s been over a week like we’re doing in Fort Worth. Sometimes it’s been over three weeks or even sometimes (it’s) been over a year where we’d go and visit a particular city periodically, every couple of months to perform.
The great thing about the Beethoven string quartet cycle is it really encompasses his whole life. It’s a real autobiographical journey of Beethoven, starting from when he was in his 20s and kind of a hot shot in Vienna to his late period when he was, as has been well documented, deaf.
It really is a great way to encapsulate the life of one of the great geniuses and great musicians who has ever walked the earth.
Fornoff: I want to dig into that a little more because this series for the Chamber Music Society (of Fort Worth) had planned to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth (in 2020). Of course, the pandemic changed that plan. But, as someone who plays music from many composers (and) who has been playing since you were 3 years old, what do you think sets him apart from other composers?
Gindele: He took music that was meant for the courts that was a little more staid, a little more traditional, like Mozart or Haydn, and … first off, his star power as a performer and a pianist … He was like, I don’t know, the Bruno Mars of his time. Right? Maybe Prince? I don’t know. But he became such a huge star as a performer.
The string quartet owes a great deal of debt and we have a lot of gratitude for Beethoven because he also started to write pieces that were so challenging and so difficult and so massive that amateurs could no longer just sit down and read or play his music. It became a professional endeavor to play middle and late Beethoven string quartets. So in some ways, we can credit him for the establishing of a professional string quartet, which is obviously what I do for a living now, because his pieces were just so challenging and so difficult.
He wasn’t afraid to push boundaries as a composer, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge performers. He would often say, and, I can’t remember the quote, but it was something like, ‘Your tiny violin doesn’t matter to me. It’s the heavens that are speaking to me.’ It’s this inspiration that he had, and he really didn’t care about what the limitations were, or at least the perceived limitations.
Fornoff: Speaking of pushing, you could take any one of those works on its own and it’s a challenge. And then to do 16 without (long) breaks in between is another challenge. I know you’ve done this before. What have those past performances taught you that have helped you prepare this time around?
Gindele: I think we have to prepare, just like you’d prepare for anything massive, right? If you were running a marathon or you were running a triathlon or you were embarking on some huge hike or something physical, you can’t just show up and do it. You have to build up to it. And that’s similar for us.
We can’t just sit down and play all 16 string quartets in five days. We wouldn’t make it through it physically, emotionally. Our ability to stay focused, our mental acuity … those are things that we have to train.
For a month or so, leading up to this event in Fort Worth, all of our rehearsals are geared toward creating that kind of stamina physically, but also our ability to stay focused for that amount of time.
I just finished a tour. I just got home today, like I mentioned, where we were playing basically every night. And it’s challenging to keep that edge and feel like you’re really achieving peak performance night after night after night. I know they talk a lot about it in sports where they have long seasons like baseball or basketball, where it’s not the game itself — it’s the cumulative stress and cumulative damage.
Fornoff: Interesting you said that because part of me wonders how you keep that emotional intensity of the pieces up when you’re playing (them) so often that I’m sure it’s easy at times to kind of fall into like just with more rote play.
Gindele: Yeah, I think it is true if we play a piece, six or eight nights in a row or even eight nights over two weeks. But we challenge ourselves not to be that way as a group.
We don’t rehearse to recreate something. We rehearse to create flexibility so that if somebody is feeling a certain way, they can react. And that’s kind of where we build our whole quartet ideal around. (There’s) the idea that we can be ourselves on stage and that there’s flexibility for that to happen. But we’ve trained in that flexibility. We’ve created that in rehearsals.
So I think we get to rediscover it every time and there’ll be nothing rote about a Beethoven cycle. I don’t think it’s possible because there’s just too much music in too short a period of time to regurgitate ideas.
Fornoff: It makes sense that with that volume that there’s no time not to be engaged. I think that in other types of performances, it takes real initiative and like concentration to try to keep things fresh.
Gindele: Yes. It’s a function of how you prepare, not how much you prepare. Being able to be flexible on stage is about having the attitude in rehearsals that that’s what you’re trying to do.
And there’s plenty of performers and great ones at that who don’t take that approach. They take the, ‘This is what I want to and this is how I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do this over and over again till I can recreate it nine out of ten times exactly the way I hear it,’ (approach). And there’s something really compelling about that.
But I find that it’s really hard to do that when there’s four personalities who are dealing with four very different things in their lives and approaches and thoughts about music making. I find for us, at least, the thing that makes it exciting and things that makes it most dynamic and the thing that keeps us excited about playing string quartets is the fact that it’s never the same twice.
Fornoff: You’ve been playing together as a group since ’95. That’s a long time. You were talking about (how) you’re different people, you’ve changed. And I wonder how your perceptions of Beethoven have changed as you go through these works.
Gindele: That’s interesting. I mean, I will say that it certainly gets a lot easier as you get older. There were years actually very early on in the quartet that I did not love playing Beethoven. I found it really awkward. I found it not very comfortable, both emotionally and also physically on the instrument.
And I will say that in the course of a cycle his language changes pretty dramatically. It goes from feeling a little more like Haydn or Mozart, something early, to feeling a little more like Brahms, something romantic. The style of playing that we have to do and the way we have to approach our instruments also is different as the cycle wears on. That also takes a little bit of … experience maybe is the thing that helps with that the most. I think all these things, just being able to live with this music for so long, makes something that is inherently uncomfortable, a little more comfortable.
Our goal is to tell this story to our audience, to create a narrative, to weave a tale with these Beethoven string quartets. It doesn’t really matter how we feel on stage. What matters more than anything is that the audience is getting what Beethoven intended and maybe getting a little of our own personalities as well. But obviously we have to speak (the language of) the composer before we can speak (the language of) Josh, Will, Daniel and John.
Fornoff: For people who might not have had the chance to experience string quartets live, what do you hope they take away from it?
Gindele: Everybody seems to get something different out of it. And I think Beethoven really was an emotion first composer and a technique second composer.
If it brings some kind of emotion to a listener, that’s really all that matters.
I obviously would encourage the people who can to see as much of the cycle as they can, because it is a journey. It actually weaves its own story as a cycle. And again, like I said earlier, I know that’s not always possible. That’s a tough ask of people because it’s a lot of music, a lot of nights, tickets, you know, the whole thing. But I think Beethoven has great stories to tell.
I would say this, one of the things that often people struggle with in going to classical concerts generally, but maybe when you hear the names like Mozart and Beethoven, there’s a little bit of reverence, a little bit of fear that you’re not going to understand what’s happening or that maybe you don’t have enough knowledge to really, truly grasp the depth of the music. I think music is music. It should affect you in whatever way it does, and there should be no barrier to entry because you’re intimidated by the history of the music or the name of the composer or what it might represent. It doesn’t have to be that. You don’t have to be deeply learned about classical composers and Beethoven specifically to understand what this music is doing. It’s still music. We want to break down those barriers if we can.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.