WE ARE ETHEL

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

BIO

Established in New York City in 1998, the string quartet ETHEL sets the contemporary concert standard:  “indefatigable and eclectic” (The New York Times), “vital and brilliant” (The New Yorker). Composer performers—Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), and Corin Lee (violin)—fuse  uptown panache with downtown genre mashup. ETHEL has performed across the United States and  worldwide; released 9 feature albums; guested on 40+ recordings; won a GRAMMY® with jazz legend Kurt  Elling; and toured with Todd Rundgren & Joe Jackson. ETHEL champions the art and music of today,  forging human connections across sound and style. 

At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos — a quest for common creative expression, forged in listening and community. The quartet designs productions that inspire engagement, such as The River, featuring Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal, and Signature Sessions, a supercharged survey of the quartet’s 25 years  of inspired music-making. 

ETHEL has premiered over 250 works, many of them commissioned by the quartet; ETHEL members have themselves been commissioned by The Ringling Museum of Art, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Georgia  Tech, and the NEA. The quartet regularly performs music by such celebrated composers as Julia Wolfe,  Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, Jessie Montgomery, Andy Akiho, and Marcelo Zarvos. Other collaborators  include Bang on a Can All-Stars, Vijay Iyer, Stewart Copeland, Raven Chacon, David Byrne, Annie-B  Parson, Gina Gibney, Grant McDonald, Steve Cosson, and Annie Dorsen. 

Recent and upcoming appearances include the Kennedy Center, Charleston Literary Festival, High Line  Greenway Park, Dumbarton Oaks, and Taos Chamber Music Group. The 2022/23 season also features a  premiere at Brooklyn Public Library, of the fifth chapter of ETHEL’s HomeBaked project, a commissioning  initiative showcasing emerging composers. This concert also features the premiere of a commission of the  Cleveland Orchestra’s Daniel R. Lewis Composer Fellow, flutist Allison Loggins-Hull. 

ETHEL has been featured at TED Conferences; on ABC Radio Australia, SiriusXM, Conan O’Brien, John  Schaefer’s New Sounds, Fred Child’s Performance Today, Randy Cohen’s Person Place Thing, NPR’s  Weekend Edition; and on the soundtracks of Dan In Real Life and HBO’s Deadwood. From mid-2020 to  early ‘22, ETHEL curated and produced Balcony Bar from Home, a virtual series hosted on The Metropolitan  Museum’s Facebook page which has garnered nearly 2 million views. 

ETHEL is Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University, and Resident Ensemble at The Metropolitan  Museum of Art’s Petrie Court Café. 

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, 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, guitarist Kaki King and rock legend Todd Rundgren. 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.” The group is now developing its newest collaboration, “Vigil,” with Lebanese violinist and composer, Layale Chaker.

ETHEL will tour its newest production, Circus: Wandering City, in 2020-21. 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.

ETHEL in the woods with Robert Mirabal black and white

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 commissioned new works from Simon Brown, Sarah Goldfeather, Nailah Nombeko, and Sugar Vendil. These new works debuted at National Sawdust in December 2019. Music by these artists will be featured in a two-day festival at Brooklyn Public Library in May 2020.

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. A new partnership with Brooklyn Public Library combines ETHEL with library staff in planning and presenting four programs at the Library’s Dweck Cultural Center in 2020. In addition, as one of BPL’s “Creatives-in-Residence,” the group will participate in workshops, planning sessions, public programs, and an exhibition at the central library in conjunction with artist William Kentridge and his Centre for the Less Good Idea. 

The group regularly conducts residency activities at schools and music programs in all five boroughs of New York City, and at Denison University. In conjunction with most national touring engagements ETHEL connects with communities at schools, senior and veterans centers, colleges, art centers, and universities. ETHEL was the 2018-19 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.