Interview With the Artist: Mivos Quartet

Collaborators, educators, and devoted performers, Mivos Quartet, “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” (The Chicago Reader), have experienced international success since their formation in 2008. 

Over the years the Mivos Quartet have worked with a variety of emerging and established international composers. In particular the group enjoys working with new up and coming composers and artist, sharing what they know and highlighting new talent. By sticking to larger collaborative periods with other musicians, Mivos has been able to create and explore multi-media projects involving live video and electronics and performing improvised music, all catered for their diverse audiences. 

This talented group has made appearances on a variety of concert series all over the world, including Wien Modern (Veinna, Austria), Asphalt Festival (Düsseldorf, Germany), Concerti Aperitivo (Udine, Italy), HellHOT! New Music Festival (Hong Kong), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), and Aldeburgh Music (UK). In 2012, Mivos was one of five groups selected for the Young Ensembles Fellowship at the Darmstadt Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, where they were awarded a Fellowship Prize for Interpretation.

You can catch the Mivos Quartet here in Cleveland on Saturday, March 28 as part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Performing Arts Series.  We were able to catch up with the group and learn moreabout their start, creative process, and what they hope to share with audiences at their Cleveland show. 

Please tell us a little bit about the origins of Mivos Quartet, and in your own words, how do you feel your music stands out from other string quartets?

The four of us met at the Manhattan School of Music in 2007, earning our Master's degrees in the then new Contemporary Performance program. It helped that we already knew we were each invested in contemporary music from the beginning - we started playing together and it just made sense. By the end of that academic year we found a name and began the work of learning repertoire, meeting composers and giving concerts.

United by a passion for exploring string quartet music as a living genre, we each had our own unique musical backgrounds and interests.  You can see these varied elements in the type of programs we present. Modernism, improvisation, experimental jazz, Minimalism, Early Music, the simply unclassifiable, are all represented.

I'd say that we have a uniquely strong focus on finding and championing younger, emerging composers. We especially like to work closely with composers over an extended period of time, to delve deeply in to their aesthetic and language. We also take a strong curatorial approach to choosing repertoire and creating programs. We want our audiences to have a deep, ecstatic experience, and we pour our hearts and minds in to making that happen.

How do you stay inspired over the years when it comes to creating music?

That's easy; we play incredible music all the time! It is almost that simple. We've been at it for about seven years now, and while the work certainly isn't easy, the music is continuously inspiring. The amount of incredible string quartet music that already exists is monumental, let alone all the new pieces by new composers that have yet to be conceived. Over the years we have developed a relationship with so many talented composers and musicians. At this point we have quite a waiting list of new pieces and projects to plan for in the future. The only barrier to inspiration is occasional fatigue, but that's a simple and easy obstacle to get over.

You help educate and support up-and-coming composers and artists. How important do you think it is to give back to the music community?

Giving back to the community is absolutely vital. Again, one of our central missions is to find and help promote the next great composers. We run the annual Mivos/Kanter Prize for Composition to help do this for young American composers. We also partnered with a sponsor in Hong Kong to create a biannual call for scores for composers of Chinese descent. We've discovered many talented artists through these two initiatives alone.

In addition to this, we regularly work with music students in educational residencies at universities, giving workshops, composer reading sessions and lecture-demonstrations. We really love doing this, getting a chance to work with students at an important point in their musical development. After our performance here at Transformer Station, we hit the road for more tour dates that include five educational residencies. 

That being said, I think we are just beginning in our efforts and will continue to develop new ways of giving back to the community at large over the next couple of seasons. We'd like to find ways to expand free concerts and presentations to underserved communities and younger audiences.

You’ve collaborated with a diverse roster of artists, such as Saul Williams and Ned Rothenberg. How does that process work – do you approach them or do they approach you?

Ned and Saul are two of our favorites, they are both incredible artists. Getting the collaboration process going usually happens in a pretty organic way. For instance Olivia, one of our violinists, gave the premiere of Rothenberg's Clarinet Quintet. He wanted a pre-formed string quartet to workshop and record the piece, so we worked together over the course of a whole season, recorded the album, went on tour, and have since continued to perform together. We heard about Saul Williams through the Arditti Quartet, who had recorded a piece for Saul and string quartet written by the Swiss composer Thomas Kessler. We heard the piece, loved it, then saw Saul perform, were blown away, and approached them both. We've since worked with Kessler on more of his music and are planning more new works with Saul for next season.

These projects usually take the form of "Mivos + 1". I think that happens naturally to keep them intimate, chamber-music affairs. In addition to Ned and Saul, we've had some truly wonderful collaboration with the likes of Dan Blake, Sam Pluta, Kate Soper, Timucin Sahin, JG Thirlwell, Nate Wooley and Zola Jesus. In reality, we also work with composers directly whenever possible, so every piece is collaboration if we can manage it.

Music is an art form that the Cleveland Museum of Art celebrates. What do you hope for audience members to come away with after seeing you perform as part of the museum's Performing Arts series?

We hope that the audience will come away with a new or reinvigorated sense of music as a living, vibrant art form. For any number of reasons, the general public seems to embrace contemporary visual art with ease, but is often intimidated or simply unaware of contemporary music. That's just a silly state of affairs. The pieces we will perform are all exquisite works in their own rite - emotionally profound, formally rigorous, meticulously crafted, and full of energy. We hope the audience will be moved by these pieces, and leave hungry to hear more.


Purchase your tickets for Saturday, March 28 at Transformer Station, and check out all of the upcoming performing arts series events!  

Listen to Mivos Quartet on Spotify:  

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