Friday, March 2, 2018

MIVOS Quartet: A Decade of Reimagining the String Quartet

In advance of the upcoming June in Buffalo Festival, Edge of the Center will introduce resident ensembles featured at this year’s festival. Planning for the festival is in full swing—most recently, applications from potential participant composers have been
arriving from all over North American, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

We kick off our series of profiles by introducing the MIVOS Quartet as a resident ensemble at this year’s June in Buffalo Festival. The ensemble will be known to Buffalo audiences from appearances at the Center last year and in 2014. At this year’s festival, the quartet will perform masterworks of modern string quartet repertoire by senior composers as well as hot-off-the-press new works by participant composers.

The quartet has an ambitious programming history at the Center. At last year’s June in Buffalo, the quartet gave a riveting account of Brian Ferneyhough’s superlatively difficult and rarely performed Second String Quartet, while introducing American audiences to the music of Norwegian composers Henrik Hellstenius and introducing Buffalo audiences to the music of Jeffrey Mumford. On top of this, the quartet also gave top-notch performances of works by the festival’s participant-composers. Their invitation to last year’s June in Buffalo was in part a result of the stellar performances the quartet gave on the Center’s guest artist series in 2014. Following a workshop with Center graduate composers, the quartet played a concert including Center artistic director David Felder’s first string quartet Third Face, as well as the relentless, challenging String Quartet no. 3 (“Grido”) by Helmut Lachenmann, and recent works composed specifically for MIVOS by Martin Stauning and Taylor Brook. This publication wrote about that concert here.

In 2018 MIVOS celebrates ten years of existence, a surprisingly short time span given the group’s development of boldly individual approaches to programming, as well as their appearances at the world’s most prestigious new music festivals, such as the New York Phil Biennial, Wien Modern (Austria), the Darmstadt Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Germany), Asphalt Festival (Düsseldorf, Germany), HellHOT! New Music Festival (Hong Kong), Shanghai New Music Week (Shanghai, China), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), Música de Agora na Bahia (Brazil), Aldeburgh Music (UK), and Lo Spririto della musica di Venezia (La Fenice Theater, Italy).

MIVOS’s programming is remarkable within the new music world in a number of respects, particularly in their advocacy for emerging composers and their expansion of the string quartet’s possibilities in duration, technology, and new approaches to composer-performer relationships. The quartet emphasizes the work of emerging composers through a number of avenues: annual open-call competitions (MIVOS/Kanter and I Creation MIVOS) resulting in performances of winning works, collaboration with emerging composers through residencies at festivals like June in Buffalo and university music departments, and commissions for new works.

Perhaps in part because the string quartet as a medium is associated with the conventions of a certain (primarily classical-period) repertoire, MIVOS has sought to expand the medium’s parameters in a number of ways. Challenging normative durational frames for chamber music, the quartet has commissioned multiple concert length works, and the group has also sought to widen the medium’s technological parameters. Work with electronics, often of an interactive nature, has become a mainstay of the group’s practice.

MIVOS also reconfigures normative composer-performer relationships. Augmenting their roles as performers, the quartet has performed works involving notational indeterminacy and improvisation, and quartet members have written works for the group (recently, works by violist Victor Lowrie and cellist Mariel Roberts were featured on a Miller Theatre Pop-Up Concert). The ensemble has also sought to expand notions of who is a composer, for instance, through commissioning hybrid composed/improvised works by improvising musicians and collaboration with spoken word artists like Saul Williams.

At the Center, we greatly look forward to MIVOS’s upcoming visit; we believe that their stellar track record with both established repertoire and new works suggests exciting prospects for their collaborations with composers at June’s festival. Be sure to check out footage of the group in action: MIVOS has released five albums—including two albums devoted to notated works—and has appeared on numerous other recordings as well. The internet thankfully offers ample documentation of their performances: the group’s Soundcloud page embedded above is a great place to start; be sure to also check out the plentiful videos available on Youtube and Vimeo.

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