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Miró Quartet's new member looking forward to busy schedule

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Will Fedkenheuer welcomes the midafternoon jolt of caffeine that a cappuccino at Thrice Cafe brings him.

In November, Fedkenheuer and his wife welcomed their second son, Oliver. Between their newborn and their 23-month-old son, Max, sleep is in short supply for Fedkenheuer and his wife.

Happiness is not, though.

Fedkenheuer is the second violinist of the Miró Quartet.

"There's so much fun in what we get to do," he says, genuinely relaxed and cheerful.

The Miró plays Friday night at Bates Recital Hall in a program that includes a guest appearance by pianist Anton Nel.

It's just the fourth time Austin audiences will have had the chance to see Fedkenheuer. He joined the Miró — which has been the string quartet-in-residence at the University of Texas' Butler School of Music since 2003 — in August.

Fedkenheuer stepped into the position once occupied by Sandra Yamamoto, who left to have more time with her family. (Yamamoto is the wife of Miró Quartet first violinist Daniel Ching, and the couple has two sons.)

The now high-profile internationally touring quartet was formed in 1995 when its members were undergraduates at Oberlin Conservatory.

Fedkenheuer is the first new member to the Miró since its beginnings. (The quartet also includes violist John Largess and cellist Josh Gindele.)

Is it daunting, joining such an ensemble, one that's been together for so long?

"They took a great deal of care in the audition process and were very thoughtful," says Fedkenheuer. "There's a learning curve for all of us. Everything is new to everyone."

Though everyone is not necessarily new to everyone else.

In the small world of high-caliber string quartet players, Fedkenheuer and the Miró have known each other for years, literally. As teenagers, he and Ching even spent a summer at music camp in Maine. (Fedkenheuer mentioned something about a dorm-damaging water fight he and Ching were involved with, but didn't elaborate.)

"It's important to take an interest in what's going on in their lives," says Fedkenheuer of his fellow string players. "And you have to know how to integrate life outside the quartet with (life in it). It does take a lot of patience and maturity."

Group happiness, for example, depends entirely on each individual's happiness.

"It's a democracy that doesn't always follow all the rules of a democracy," Fedkenheuer says of quartet dynamics. "If one person is really unhappy with something, then we'll change it. I have a say in how my voice sounds in the quartet."

Fedkenheuer hadn't been looking for a change when the Miró came calling late last spring. He was content as the first violinist of the Fry Street Quartet and on the faculty of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University. After all, the fly-fishing — a favorite pastime of Fedkenheuer's — was great in the mountains of Utah.

But Texas wasn't exactly the unknown frontier, either. After growing up in Calgary — with its petroleum industry and cowboy culture, Alberta is often called the "Texas of Canada" — Fedkenheuer studied at Rice University in Houston for his undergraduate degree.

At his Austin debut concert with the Miró in September, Fedkenheuer surprised with some Texas-esque (Alberta-esque?) talent when he broke into "Orange Blossom Special," aka the fiddler's anthem.

Yep, Fedkenheuer is a fiddler. At least, he started his career as such.

Learning violin at age 4 by the Suzuki method, he was by age 7 plucked to join the Calgary Fiddlers, a professional youth touring group.

"The first concert I was invited to play on was at Disneyland," he recalls. "That kind of sealed the deal for me."

For the next seven years, Fedkenheuer toured the world with the Calgary Fiddlers, racking up a considerable amount of show business chops along way.

Though professionally it's all about the classical repertoire for him now, Fedkenheuer says the fiddling is never all that far away. "It's something I'll often pull out on my own."

Among other projects on the docket for the Miró is a mid-May recording of Beethoven's Op. 59 quartets. The CD will be released in the fall, a prelude, as it were, for the foursome's plans to tackle the entire cycle of Beethoven string quartets in the 2013-2014 season.

"The Beethoven cycle is really kind of rite of passage for a string quartet," says Fedkenheuer. "And we really wanted to focus on the core repertoire."

In the meantime, in June there's a gig at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall with Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic. And next year, the Miró plays Carnegie Hall. Before that, among many other projects, the quartet will premiere at UT an octet with the Shanghai Quartet by Austin composer Dan Welcher. Then there's a concert at the Library of Congress for which the quartet will use Stradivarius instruments from the library's collection.

"It's all good," says Fedkenheuer of the hectic professional schedule.

Perhaps the midafternoon caffeine break will become standard repertoire, too.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

The Miró Quartet with Anton Nel