ETHEL was established in New York City in 1998, quickly earning 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. The New York Times has described them as “indefatigable and eclectic,” and The New Yorker has deemed them “vital and brilliant.” Nearly two decades into their singular career, ETHEL has in turn become seminal in its own right, a path-breaker for countless new genre-spanning ensembles, and a prolific commissioner of new music.
At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos—a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. 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 decadelong Project Documerica, launched in 1971; The River, a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal (album released June 2016); the introspective Grace, featuring ETHEL’s arrangements of music by Ennio Morricone and Jeff Buckley; and Blue Dress, which pays homage to women making their musical mark on the 21st century.
ETHEL has collaborated with artists including David Byrne, Bang on a Can All Stars, Kaki King, Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson, Ursula Oppens, Juana Molina, Tom Verlaine, STEW, Andrew Bird, Thomas Dolby, Jeff Peterson, Laurence Hobgood, Jake Shimabukuro and Vijay Iyer.
ETHEL’s self-titled debut album 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, and Heavy, ’12, was a Q-2 “Album of the Week.” The recording of ETHEL’S Documerica, ’15, was featured by The New York Times’ Press Play and on iTunes’ classical front page. The River with guest artist Robert Mirabal debuted in 2016, and was nominated for a NAMMY award.
ETHEL has appeared as a guest artist on over a dozen music labels, to include: Laurence Hobgood’s tesseterra (label TBD, 2017); 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 (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).
The quartet regularly performs works by all of the members of the ensemble, alongside 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. Over the past five years, ETHEL has premiered 150+ new works, many of them commissioned by the quartet.
ETHEL is the Resident Ensemble at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar and Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University, where the quartet members were awarded honorary doctorates during the 2017 commencement exercises.
ETHEL is: Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Corin Lee (violin).
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. The River, featuring long-time collaborator flutist Robert Mirabal, debuted in early 2016 and was nominated for a NAMMY (Native-American Music Awards).
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.