String Quartet ETHEL Celebrates 20th Anniversary Season
String quartet ETHEL, known for its enlivened playing and consistently groundbreaking redefinition of concert music, announces their landmark 20th anniversary season. Described as "an adventurous quartet with a rock band's zest" by The New York Times and deemed "a genre unto itself" by the Village Voice, ETHEL continues to set the standard for contemporary concert music. Celebrations begin with a June 20th benefit gala hosted by New Sound's John Schaefer, honoring ETHEL as well as fellow new music champions: Bang on a Can founders Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. ETHEL's 2018-19 season offers the New York premiere of Circus: Wandering City at the 2018 BAM Next Wave Festival, along with continued touring of the group's signature works: The River and Documerica. (Please scroll below for more details and complete 2018-19 schedule of events.)
The quartet creates and tours rich, often multimedia, productions including the evening-length ETHEL's Documerica, inspired by the tens of thousands of images shot as part of the Environmental Protection Agency's decade-long Project Documerica, launched in 1971; The River, a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal; and Circus: Wandering City, which explores the phenomenon of circus through the eyes and insights of people who have created its special thrills and illusions. Directed by Grant McDonald, and co-commissioned by BAM and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (The Ringling) in Sarasota, Florida, Circus: Wandering City is an immersive work, combining projections of stunning images, film, and interviews from the Museum's archives, the words of circus performers past and present, and original music composed and performed live by ETHEL. Circus: Wandering City made its world premiere in January 2018-the 250th anniversary of the modern circus-at The Ringling. The work makes its New York premiere in November 2018 at the BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn, NY.
In 1998, violinists Mary Rowell and Todd Reynolds, violist Ralph Farris and cellist Dorothy Lawson came together for a recording session. The collaboration of these extraordinarily skilled, passionate musicians sparked a surge of creative energy and potential, at a time when the classical music field was conservative and the economic climate was difficult. "When we formed ETHEL 20 years ago, our renegade style of music was the first of its kind. We were anomalies," explains Dorothy Lawson, ETHEL's co-artistic director and cellist.
ETHEL quickly earned a reputation as one of America's most adventurous string quartets - heirs to the likes of the Kronos Quartet and Soldier String Quartet, and part of a generation of young artists blending uptown, conservatory musicianship with downtown genre-crossing - by playing with the intensity and accoutrements of a rock band. Two decades into a singular career, ETHEL has in turn become seminal, a path-breaker for countless new genre-spanning ensembles and a prolific commissioner of new music. "We witnessed first-hand the growth of the new music scene. We could not be happier to have played a role in the development and sustainability of this music, and will continue to forge new approaches and practices that make meaningful contributions to the field," states Lawson.
Since its inception, ETHEL has released six feature recordings (one of them nominated for a Native American Music Award), guested on 35+ albums, won a GRAMMY with jazz legend Kurt Elling, performed in 14 countries, 45 states, and 250 cities, served as artists in residence with four revered institutions (Grand Canyon Music Festival/Native American Composers Apprenticeship Program, Park Avenue Armory, Denison University, and the Balcony Bar of The Metropolitan Museum of Art ), appeared twice as TED speakers, and premiered over 190 works (>77% commissioned) by 100+ different ground-breaking 21st Century composers (>25% female).
The quartet regularly performs works by all of the members of the ensemble, alongside music by Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, David Lang, Dan Friel, John Zorn, Missy Mazzoli, Anna Clyne, Steve Reich, Don Byron, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Marcelo Zarvos, Pamela Z, Evan Ziporyn and Terry Riley. The New York Times has described the group as "indefatigable and eclectic," and Pitchfork has called them "infectiously visceral." According to the New Orleans Advocate, "ETHEL has been exploding the boundaries of conventional quartet music by combining its classical training with rock 'n' roll enthusiasm and musical traditions from around the world." Named the "avatar of 'post-classical' music (The New Yorker)," ETHEL has earned its place as a lead voice in the pantheon of the concert music world.