STAGE TUBE: ETHEL's Documerica Returns to BAM, 10/2

September 24
12:26 2013

STAGE TUBE: ETHEL's Documerica Returns to BAM, 10/2

Acclaimed nationwide for eclectic programming and virtuoso performances, string quartet ETHEL returns to the BAM Next Wave Festival to premiere its largest and most ambitious undertaking to date,Documerica. Inspired by the Environmental Protection Agency's Project Documerica-a massive "snapshot" of America showcased in an astonishing archive of images captured during the recession-plagued, tumultuous 1970s-this multimedia meditation interweaves over 3,000 vintage photographs with commissioned contemporary music for a landmark work.

Coined as an "avatar of 'post-classical' music" (The New Yorker), ETHEL invigorates contemporary concert music with exuberance, intensity, imaginative programming, and exceptional artistry. The New York City-based quartet comprises Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Kip Jones (violin) and Tema Watstein (violin). Previous ETHEL appearances at BAM include Everywhere (2005 Next Wave) and TruckStop: The Beginning (2008 Next Wave).

In Documerica, the group pairs its dynamic playing with the evocative imagery of the EPA's Project Documerica in a synthesis of score and projections that explores Americans' connection to their environment. "ETHEL's Documerica is a transcendent reflection on our nation, the state of its environment, its people and its collective soul," says Dorothy Lawson (cello). "We invite audiences to contemplate and respond to the environmental and social challenges that are revealed in this piece. It's dramatic and beautiful and very exciting."

ETHEL commissioned the acclaimed composer Mary Ellen Childs, Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., Chickasaw Nation's Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, and West Point commissionee James Kimo Williams -- to create new music inspired by the EPA's images. Coupled with ETHEL's own original works, the music explores a range of American styles, genres and techniques-blues, jazz, Native American traditional, bluegrass, and old-time string band-filtered through a distinctly 21st-century lens. "We're trying to deliver four disparate perspectives through the same lens - adialogue between the visual presentation and our performance as an ensemble," explains Kip Jones (violin).

Performing live right alongside ETHEL are manipulated, layered, panoramic video projections by renowned artist Deborah Johnson (Planetarium, 2013 Winter/Spring Season). The program's music is in constant dialogue with the projections in an arc that is by turns urban, rural, pastoral, and gritty. Extrapolated from the archive's 22,000+ images are stunning references to strip mining, political protest, car culture, pollution, unemployment, inflation, fashion trends, recreational pastimes, natural beauty, and urban decline, bringing an era fraught with social upheaval into dialogue with the present.

STAGE TUBE: ETHEL's Documerica Returns to BAM, 10/2


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by Peter Danish