WE ARE ETHEL

“In the hands of ETHEL, American music is alive and well.”
–Washington Post, March 2018

BIO

ETHEL redefines contemporary concert music with groundbreaking performances, engaging touring programs, innovative collaborations, mind-bending multi-media productions, imaginative compositions, bold commissions, and inspired recordings.

ETHEL burst onto New York City’s music scene in 1998 and was quickly hailed as one of America’s most adventurous string quartets – the upstart heir to the likes of Kronos and the Soldier String Quartet. ETHEL led the way as a generation of artists began to apply their uptown conservatory musicianship to downtown genre-smashing music that embraced the intensity of rock and the grooves of jazz, hip-hop, indie, roots, and worldbeat bands. Since then, ETHEL has traveled the country and around the world, creating and collaborating and celebrating community with artists and audiences. In that spirit, the quartet has also composed and commissioned nearly 200 works. The New York Times has lauded ETHEL as “indefatigable and eclectic.” The New Yorker praised the band as “vital and brilliant.” Pitchfork called ETHEL “infectiously visceral.” Two decades into its singular career, ETHEL is recognized as a pioneer in its own right, nationally acclaimed as a trail-blazer in redefining contemporary concert music.

ETHEL creates and tours a rich array of provocative programs and mind-bending multimedia productions that currently include: ETHEL’s Documerica, inspired by the EPA’s archive of thousands of images of 1970s America; The River , a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal; and Grace, a journey highlighting musical iterations of redemption and featuring ETHEL’s own adaptation of Ennio Morricone’s moving score to the 1986 film, The Mission, works by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hildegard von Bingen, and Zuni and Hawaiian ritual chants. ETHEL’s most recent and most ambitious project is Circus: Wandering City. Commissioned by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Circus is a multimedia experience with a dynamic original score by ETHEL that conjures the daring spectacle, beauty, and thrill of the American circus, as well as its cultural significance through the centuries.

The quartet’s debut album, ETHEL, was a Billboard “Best Recording of 2003.” Light ranked #3 on Amazon’s “Best of 2006.” Heavy (2012) was a Q-2 “Album of the Week.” The recording of ETHEL’S Documerica (2015) was featured on The New York Times’ “Press Play” and iTunes’s classical front page. The River featuring guest artist Robert Mirabal debuted in 2016 and was nominated for a NAMMY award. ETHEL’s original score for Circus: Wandering City will be released in 2018-19. The quartet also recorded Oshtali: Music for String Quartet for the Chickasaw Nation in 2010 — the first commercial recording of American Indian student work in our nation’s history.

Since 2005, ETHEL has premiered nearly 200 works by new music luminaries as well as emerging composers; many of these works were commissioned by the quartet. The ensemble’s repertoire focuses on works created since 1995 and includes music by Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, John King, 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. All quartet members are also composers and contribute new work to ETHEL’s repertoire.

ETHEL has appeared as a guest artist on recordings released by over a dozen music labels including Laurence Hobgood’s tesseterra (label TBD, 2018); The Paha Sapa Give-Back by Jerome Kitzke (Innova, 2014); Cold Blue Two (Cold Blue Music, 2012); Glow by Kaki King (Velour Recordings, 2012); Blue Moth by Anna Clyne (Tzadik, 2012); The Duke by Joe Jackson (Razor & Tie, 2012); A Map of the Floating City by Thomas Dolby (Redeye Label, 2011); John the Revelator: A Mass for Six Voices by Phil Kline, with vocal group Lionheart (Cantaloupe Music, 2008); and the Grammy Award-winning Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman (Concord Records, 2009).

ETHEL builds relationships and engages community with innovative outreach performances and educational programs. ETHEL is currently the Resident Ensemble at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar and the Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University. In 2018-19, ETHEL will be the quartet-in-residence at Face the Music, a music education program at the Kaufman Music Center. This dynamic initiative for young New York City musicians is dedicated to the study and performance of music by living composers.

Ralph Farris

Artistic Director, Viola

Kip Jones

Violin

Dorothy Lawson

Artistic Director, Cello

Corin Lee

Violin

PERFORMANCES AND COLLABORATIONS

ETHEL has appeared on stages as varied as the Venice Biennale, Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Center, Toronto’s Royal Conservatory, Kennedy Center, and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. A ubiquitous presence in New York City, the quartet has performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music, Merkin Hall, World Financial Center, Le Poisson Rouge, Park Avenue Armory, Roulette, Alice Tully Hall, The Kitchen, The Stone, National Sawdust, and Greene Art Space, among other venues; at festivals and community events; and at city schools and campuses. ETHEL has toured every region of the U.S., performed in Western Europe, Russia, Mexico, and Australia, and been featured on internationally broadcast TV, radio, and streaming services.

ETHEL excels in harnessing the power and inspiration of collaboration and cross-fertilization. The quartet has performed with legendary stars as well as emerging talents in pop, rock, jazz, world, traditional, classical, digital, and indie music including David Byrne, Kurt Elling, Bang on a Can All Stars, Todd Rundgren, Thomas Dolby, Sō Percussion, John King, Ursula Oppens, Laurence Hobgood, Jake Shimabukuro, STEW, Phil Kline, Vijay Iyer, and Lionhheart. ETHEL recently collaborated on national touring programs with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal, and guitarist Kaki King. In creating its multimedia and stage productions, ETHEL has worked with theater directors Annie Dorsen, Steve Cosson, Daniel Flannery, and Grant McDonald; projection designers Deborah Johnson and John Narun; and choreographers Wally Cardona, Gina Gibney, Annie-B Parson, Dusan Tynek, and Mathew Janczewski.

Ambitious collaborative projects and astonishing multi-media productions have always been central to ETHEL’s identity, and the quartet’s current touring programs are no exception.  The River was created by ETHEL with long-time collaborator Robert Mirabal, at Mirabal’s home on the Taos Pueblo. ETHEL’s Documerica features music commissioned from four American composers reflecting diverse regions and styles as well as compositions by ETHEL. In performance, this music fuses with projections by Deborah Johnson that draw on a spectacular archive of photographs of 1970s America commissioned for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Project Documerica.” 

ETHEL will tour its newest production, Circus: Wandering City, in 2018-19-20. With singular acts of daring and feats of strength, circus artists have always pushed the boundaries of the human form to give countless audiences the opportunity to desire and dream. Commissioned by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Circus: Wandering City conveys the spirit of artists who bring excitement and mystery to one of America’s most iconographic popular culture experiences. Circus: Wandering City made its world premiere at The Ringling, in January 2018 on the 250th anniversary of the modern circus.

PREMIERES AND COMMISSIONS

ETHEL is passionate about creating and supporting new work. Since 2005, the quartet has premiered nearly 200 compositions. Many of these were commissioned or composed by the quartet. The original score for Circus: Wandering City, created by ETHEL members, had its world premiere in January 2018. ETHEL premiered Phil Kline’s “Space” at the reopening of Alice Tully Hall and Osvaldo Golijov’s “Radio” at WNYC’s Greene Space. In 2015, the quartet performed world premieres of “Quartet for Queen Mab,” a commission by Missy Mazzoli, and “Blue Dress for String Quartet,” by Pulitzer Prizewinner Julia Wolfe.  

The world premiere of ETHEL’s Documerica, featuring commissioned music by Mary Ellen Childs, Ulysses Owens Jr., Jerod Impichchaachaaha’Tate, James Kimo Williams and members of the quartet, premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2013. Other recent premieres include works by Kevin James, Jerome Kitzke, Aleksandra Vrebalov, and Bruce Wolosoff.

The quartet is based in New York City, and ETHEL’s HomeBaked initiative commissions music from the city’s most exciting young, emerging composers. HomeBaked has launched new works by Andy Akiho, Olga Bell, Hannis Brown, Anna Clyne, Lainie Fefferman, Dan Friel, Avi Granite, Judd Greenstein, Sarah Lipstate, Matt Marks, Kyle Tieman-Strauss, and Ulysses Owens Jr. HomeBaked IV will launch in 2018-19.

RECORDINGS

The quartet’s debut CD, ETHEL, made Billboard’s list of “Best Recordings of 2003.” Light ranked #3 on Amazon’s “Best of 2006.” ETHEL’s third CD, Heavy, was a Q-2 “Album of the Week.” Documerica (2015) was featured in The New York Times “Press Play,” and on iTunes’s classical front page. The River (2016) features flutist Robert Mirabal, ETHEL’s long-time collaborator; it was nominated for a NAMMY (Native American Music Award). ETHEL’s original score for Circus: Wandering City will be released in 2018-19. The quartet also recorded Oshtali: Music for String Quartet for the Chickasaw Nation in 2010; it is the first commercial recording of American Indian student work in our nation’s history.

ETHEL has also appeared as a guest artist on more than a dozen music labels. These recordings include: Cold Blue Two (Cold Blue Music, 2012); Glow by Kaki King (Velour Recordings, 2012); Blue Moth by Anna Clyne (Tzadik, 2012); A Map of the Floating City by Thomas Dolby (Redeye Label, 2012); The Duke by Joe Jackson (Razor & Tie, 2012); John the Revelator: A Mass for Six Voices by Phil Kline, with vocal group Lionheart (Cantaloupe Music, 2008); and the Grammy Award-winning Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman (Concord Records, 2009).

 COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

ETHEL offers a variety of inventive outreach and educational activities in conjunction with performances. These programs are warm and welcoming interactions with children, students, and adults. They include workshops and master classes; performances with community choirs or other arts groups; lectures and demonstrations; improvisation and composition.

The ensemble also enjoys long-term relationships with communities and campuses across the country. ETHEL is currently the quartet-in-residence at Denison University, Granville, Ohio and the ensemble-in-residence on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar.  In 2018-19, ETHEL will be the quartet-in-residence at Face the Music, a music education program at the Kaufman Music Center in Manhattan. This dynamic initiative for young New York City musicians is dedicated to the study and performance of music by living composers.

The group regularly conducts residency activities at schools and music programs in all five boroughs of New York City. From 2005 to 2014, ETHEL conducted residencies at the Grand Canyon Music Festival; these residencies were integral to the festival’s acclaimed Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project, which received a U.S. Presidential Award in Arts and Humanities in 2011.