The McGill International String Quartet Academy brings together “junior” and “senior” quartets in residence at McGill, where they are improved and improve each other through master classes and private lessons with international faculty.The concert series is unique — a total immersion in the quartet tradition — and there’s no better way to find out what kinds of performers and composers you don’t like. It’s free, too. This year, the sixth edition runs until Aug. 22 and it presents eight quartets chosen from 24 applicants for the four senior and four junior spots; seniors get individual concerts Aug. 13, 14, 20 and 21 while the babies share matinees Aug. 15 and 22 (they fall asleep so early). Invited guests perform at the opening and closing concerts. Last Sunday, we heard Austin’s Miró Quartet, and on Aug. 22 it will be the Parker Quartet for Mendelssohn, Brahms and the only piece by a living composer, Tan Dun’s Eight Colors for String Quartet, written in 1986. The Miró played a classic program of Schubert and Beethoven, but most of the upcoming concerts offer slightly more contrast. Concerts on Aug. 13 (Janáček and Mozart) and 14 (Ligeti and Bartók) are recommended; these programs should provoke the young quartets, which means a more interesting time for you. But some new music would be nice next year. Today’s working quartet can’t expect to only play the greats. The Miró made Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15 and Beethoven’s Quartet No. 14 Op. 131 sound suspiciously like bouncing twins. Mystery and often, subtlety, were traded for exuberance. I found the bargain unconvincing, but the evening flew by. The Miró can sound like a much younger quartet, which is remarkable when their magnificent tone is obviously too rich for that to be true. The first movement of the Schubert began brilliantly; it had a fatal energy like the mind of a driver before he takes the car through the guardrail. Then self-conscious dramatics took over. The Andante had its floating moments, but the rest dissolved from the constant agitation. Schubert’s lyricism comes from Vienna, not Bavaria. It needs less beer hall and more coffee house. The Beethoven was better. It is one of his greatest and strangest quartets, a resistant work that changes character through seven continuous movements, though it ends with characteristic and emphatic resolve. The Miró played the opening fugue with sudden and appropriate reverence, and a more attentive character emerged through the first third. Of the late quartets, I prefer the slightly insane Op. 133, but this one has many moments of surprise, toying passages like musical games. By the Presto, however, excitement had returned to conquer. Scampering motifs turned thunderous. The Miró even pluck like football players, as is their right. Perhaps it’s the Texan way. Call 514-550-8057 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for free tickets and more information. Concerts are at 7 p.m. and master classes run most days at 2 p.m. They are much better than lectures to hear musicians try to talk about music.
Lev Bratishenko / The Gazette