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New Music, New Voices: Robert Honstein and the Mivos Quartet

Nuts and Bolts Music
By Jane Mitchell

Mivos Quartet, photo by Ralf Puder and Nana Franck

Composer David Lang despises the belief that success can be achieved by pushing your colleagues “under a bus.”  He made this expressly clear from the beginning of Creating New Music, a six-day workshop he designed to encourage open dialogue and collaboration between new music ensembles and young composers.  I have been following one of the ensemble-composer pairs selected for this workshop: the Mivos Quartet and Robert Honstein ['04BA, '10MMA].

I joined the Mivos quartet last Saturday for a late afternoon rehearsal of Arctic, Honstein’s new piece.  The Mivos were jovial and relaxed, despite being observed by two members of International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), three cameramen, and a bright blue cello case.  “It’s way less cramped than where we usually rehearse,” explained the cellist, Mariel Roberts.  (The quartet takes turns hosting rehearsals in their NYC apartments.  And when they are on tour?  “Oh, they always put us in some cave,” quips the violist, Victor Lowrie.)

"Sunburn Series" by Chris McCaw

“Sunburn Series” by Chris McCaw

Arctic is inspired by a pair of photographs from Chris McCaw’s Sunburn series, a study of the effect of over-exposure on photo paper.  In the giant, twelve panel works, the sun has seared its way across the sky, creating a sine wave over a barren, faded Alaskan landscape.  Honstein began his compositional process by devising a structure: he would juxtapose two movements, the first energetic and compact, the second sparse and expansive.  Four weeks later, he completed “Midnight Sun,” depicting the perpetual sunlight of arctic summer, and “Polar Night,” depicting the unending darkness of arctic winter.