At the heart of ETHEL, the acclaimed New York City-based contemporary music quartet, is a collaborative ethos—a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. Nearly 20 years into its existence, the group conceives, commissions, produces, and performs rich multimedia concert works and has released several acclaimed albums. ETHEL has premiered more than 150 works by groundbreaking composers—many of them written for ETHEL—and has collaborated with an extraordinary range of artists.
“For nearly 18 years…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.”
– New Orleans Advocate
Acclaimed as “unfailingly vital” (The New York Times), “brilliant,” “downtown’s reigning string quartet” (The New Yorker), and “one of the most exciting quartets around” (The Strad), ETHEL invigorates the contemporary music scene with exuberance, intensity, imaginative programming, and exceptional artistry. At the heart of ETHEL is a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. As cultural and musical “pollinators,” the quartet invigorates today’s indie-classic scene through genre and culture-crossing initiatives, inventive repertoire, and innovative community engagement activities. ETHEL advances the work of a diverse community of artists through commissions, collaborations, and recordings.
While on tour and at home, ETHEL offers in-depth residency and community outreach programming to connect a broad spectrum of audiences and students to its music. Founded in 1998 and based in New York City, ETHEL is comprised of Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Kip Jones (violin), and Corin Lee (violin).
Known worldwide for transcending the limits of tradition, ETHEL actively, aggressively, and joyfully adapts its masterful skill-set to the presentation of virtuosic, boundary-crossing works of musical and cultural diversity.
The group ongoingly champions the music of emerging artists, and performs adventurous music by celebrated contemporary composers such as Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, Andy Akiho, David Lang, John King, John Zorn, Steve Reich, Anna Clyne, Kenji Bunch, JacobTV, Don Byron, Marcelo Zarvos, Evan Ziporyn, Judd Greenstein, Terry Riley, James Kimo Williams and Mary Ellen Childs. Over the past five years, ETHEL has premiered 150+ new works, many of them commissioned by the quartet.
ETHEL’s 2015-16 season celebrates the diversity of regional American music, anchored by a national tour of the evening-length ETHEL’s Documerica, described by The New York Times as “new music bonding with old images in rich, provocative and moving ways.” ETHEL will tour several critically-acclaimed signature programs throughout the season, ranging from The River, a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal, to an introspective program Grace, featuring ETHEL’s arrangements of music by Ennio Morricone and Jeff Buckley. Other highlights include the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe’s “Blue Dress for String Quartet,” commissioned by ETHEL, at National Sawdust; performances of new and existing repertoire as the Resident Ensemble at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar, and interdisciplinary activities as Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University.
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, and Australia, and been featured on internationally broadcast TV, radio, and streaming services.
Dedicated to harnessing the power of collaboration and the exploration of musical cross-fertilization, ETHEL has performed with Kurt Elling, Bang on a Can, Sō Percussion, John King, Ursula Oppens, Todd Rundgren, STEW, Phil Kline, Vijay Iyer, Lionhheart, and many others. Recent collaborations include the creation of ETHEL’s touring programs with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal, and with guitarist Kaki King. The ensemble has collaborated with theater directors Annie Dorsen, Steve Cosson, and Daniel Flannery, with projection designers Grant McDonald and Deborah Johnson, and with choreographers Wally Cardona, Gina Gibney, Annie-B Parson, Dusan Tynek, and Mathew Janczewski.
ETHEL-generated collaborative projects have been central to the group’s identity. Its TruckStop® project, initiated in 2007, examined and honored indigenous communities, cultures, and music. Inspired by the musical and cultural diversity observed during extensive American touring, ETHEL selected regional vernaculars and practitioners with whom they created collaborative works.
TruckStop: The Beginning premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s NextWave Festival, 2008, and featured TruckStop alumnae: Tejano Conjunto accordionist Eva Ybarra; New Mexico’s preeminent Native American flutist Robert Mirabal; Hawaiian slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson; and Kentucky banjo legend Dean Osborne.
The currently touring ETHEL’s Documerica and The River programs continue this collaborative approach. For ETHEL’s Documerica, commissioned music from four American composers representing different regions and styles, and original music by ETHEL members is fused with projections created by designer Deborah Johnson from images from the EPA’s Project Documerica. The River was created and recorded by ETHEL members and long-time collaborating artist Robert Mirabal on the Taos Pueblo in 2015.
The group is currently working with director and projections designer Grant McDonald and the Ringling Museum of Art to build its newest collaborative project, Circus!
COMMISSIONING AND PREMIERES
Dedicated to the creation and support of new music, ETHEL has premiered over 100 works in the past five years, many of them composed for the ensemble. Recent world premieres include the debut of Phil Kline’s “Space” at the reopening of Alice Tully Hall; and “Radio” by Osvaldo Golijov at WNYC’s Greene Space. ETHEL’s HomeBaked initiative featuring commissioned music by emerging New York City composers has presented works by Andy Akiho, Anna Clyne, Judd Greenstein, Matt Marks, Hannis Brown, Lainie Fefferman, Dan Friel, and Ulysses Owens Jr. New compositions by Kevin James, Jerome Kitzke, and Aleksandra Vrebalov were debuted in 2012/13. The world premiere of ETHEL’s Documerica, featuring commissioned music by Mary Ellen Childs, Ulysses Owens Jr., Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, James Kimo Williams, and the members of ETHEL premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music in October 2013. Most recently, the quartet presented world premieres of “Quartet for Queen Mab,” a commission by Missy Mazzoli, in February 2015, and “Blue Dress for String Quartet” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Wolfe in November 2015.
ETHEL’s debut CD was a Billboard “Best Recording of ‘03.” Light, ranked #3 on Amazon.com’s “Best of ‘06.” Oshtali: Music for String Quartet, ‘10, is the first commercial recording of American Indian student works. ETHEL’s third CD, Heavy, ‘12, was a Q-2 “Album of the Week.” The recording of ETHEL’s Documerica, released in November 2015, was featured by The New York Times’ Press Play, and on iTunes’ classical front page. A recording of The River will debut in early 2016.
ETHEL has appeared as a guest artist on over a dozen music labels and has most recently been featured on: 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 (Cantaloupe Music, 2008) with vocal group Lionheart; and the Grammy Award-winning Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman (Concord Records, 2009).
ETHEL offers outreach and educational activities in conjunction with performances. These programs, consisting of interaction with children, students, and adults, are in the form of workshops, lecture demonstrations, performances with community choirs, and improvisation/composition offerings.
In August 2014, ETHEL conducted its 10th residency at the Grand Canyon Music Festival, where the quartet was integral to the festival’s acclaimed Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project, winner of a 2011 Presidential Award. ETHEL is currently quartet in residence at Denison University and ensemble in residence on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar.