Established in New York City in 1998, ETHEL quickly earned a reputation as one of America’s most adventurous string quartets. Twenty years later, the band continues to set the standard for contemporary concert music. Known for its enlivened playing, blending uptown, conservatory musicianship with downtown genre-crossing, ETHEL has been described as “indefatigable and eclectic” (The New York Times), “vital and brilliant” (The New Yorker), and “infectiously visceral” (Pitchfork). Since its inception, ETHEL has released ten feature recordings (one of them nominated for a Native American Music Award), performed as guests on 35+ albums, won a GRAMMY® with jazz legend Kurt Elling, and performed in 14 countries, 45 states, and 250 cities.
At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos – a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. In addition to premiering 21st century works by a broad range of groundbreaking composers, the quartet creates and tours rich, often multimedia, productions in which community engagement is a key element. ETHEL is currently touring 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 initiative commissioned photographers across America to document the state of the environment and its impact on society. Directed by OBIE Award-winner Steve Cosson, with projection design by Deborah Johnson, ETHEL’s Documerica features new works by ETHEL members and music the quartet commissioned from other uniquely American artists. The quartet released the album Documerica (Innova Recordings) in 2015. Other current evening-length programs include The River, a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal (The River [Innova Recordings] was released in 2016). Grace, a journey toward redemption in music, 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; 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. Co-Commissioned by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (The Ringling) in Sarasota, Florida, and Brooklyn Academy of Music, the immersive work combines projections of stunning images, films 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, and its New York premiere at the BAM Next Wave Festival in November 2018.
ETHEL has collaborated with such luminaries as David Byrne, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Kaki King, Todd Rundgren, Laurence Hobgood, Carlo Mombelli, Ursula Oppens, Juana Molina, Tom Verlaine, STEW, Ensemble Modern, Jill Sobule, Dean Osborne, Robert Mirabal, Howard Levy, Simone Sou, Andrew Bird, Iva Bittová, Colin Currie, Thomas Dolby, Jeff Peterson, Oleg Fateev, Stephen Gosling, Jake Shimabukuro, Polygraph Lounge and Vijay Iyer.
The quartet regularly performs works by all of the members of the ensemble, alongside music by Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, Svjetlana Bukvich, David Lang, Dan Friel, Mary Ellen Childs, John King, Jessie Montgomery, Raz Mesinai, John Zorn, Missy Mazzoli, Anna Clyne, Steve Reich, Kenji Bunch, 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, Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University, and 2018/19 Quartet-in-Residence at Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music. In 2017, the members of ETHEL received honorary doctorates from Denison University, where the group has been in residence since 2015.
ETHEL is Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), and 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.
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).
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.