Ethel: Present Beauty

Monday / March 5, 2012 / 6:30 p.m.
David Friend Recital Hall
921 Boylston Street
United States

Mark Stewart, To Whom It May Concern: Thank You from Origin of the Species 

To Whom It May Concern: Thank You is the final movement of Origin of the Species, a piece commissioned for Ethel by the Jerome Foundation. The first movements of the larger piece are performed on daxophones custom-designed for the group. These movements tell fantastical tales of the earth's creation, and the coming to be of all of the planet's living things. This final movement, inspired by Stewart's mother's athiestic dinner prayer, brings the stories to a gentle, loving rest.

Terry Riley, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector   

Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector is one of the seminal masterworks of the minimalist movement. Twenty-four modules make up the structure of the piece; the performers are charged to "co-compose" the work by determining the ultimate module order, and duration of the performance. Ethel is particularly stimulated by the exercise of presenting this piece; each presentation opens up new fields of possibility.

Philip Glass, arranged by Ethel Selections from The Hours 

Stephen Daldry's 2002 film realization of Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours drew a hauntingly beautiful sound score from Philip Glass. There is a powerful affinity between Glass's creative aesthetic and that of the novel's protagonist, author Virginia Woolf. As a writer, she developed the theme of beauty as an experience rooted in the present moment, rather than in relationship to the past or the future. In his music, Glass captures beauty in continuity, without beginning, climax or end. As Cunningham points out in the liner notes to The Hours CD, "Glass can find in three repeated notes something of the strange rapture of sameness that Woolf discovered in a woman named Clarissa Dalloway doing errands on a summer morning." Deeply moved by the aesthetic of "present beautym" Ethel has arranged several movements of Glass's score, and presents them in suite form.

Early That Summer

Julia Wolfe wrote Early That Summer while living in Amsterdam for a year. At the same time that she was working on the piece, she was reading a book about American political history. In this book, all of the political crises began with some small occurrence, with a phrase like "early that summer....". That small occurrence would, over time, snowball into something large and explosive. Partway through the book and the piece, Wolfe realized that the music was about that sense of anticipation. The Lark Quartet commissioned Early That Summer with funds from the Meet the Composer's Commissioning Program.


David Lang's piece wed is dedicated to the memory of Kate Ericson, a young conceptual artist and a close friend of his wife. In her hospital bed, just before she died, Ericson was married to her boyfriend and longtime collaborator, Mel Ziegler. A wedding is usually a joyful event, full of hope and optimism, but this wedding of course had something much darker hovering around the joyfulness, said Lang. In his piece the four independent lines of the string quartet are made of small changes—a half step up, a whole step down, and each line by itself is not that interesting. Put together, however, they allow the music to rock oddly back and forth between major and minor, between consonance and dissonance, between hope and despair.  wed was written for the Kronos Quartet.

String Quartet No. 2: The Flag Project 

String Quartet No. 2: The Flag Project is about the Buddhism Prayer Flags, and it is written for string quartet with four pairs of Tibetan Finger Cymbals. A prayer flag is a colorful panel or rectangular cloth often found strung along mountain ridges and peaks high in the Himalayas to bless the surrounding land and creatures. Unknown in other branches of Buddhism, prayer flags are believed to have originated with Bön, which predated Buddhism in Tibet.  String Quartet No. 2: The Flag Project has three movements, and each movement is about different motion of the flags. The entire piece runs around 15 minutes.  

Acclaimed as America's premier postclassical string quartet, Ethel boldly infuses contemporary concert music with fierce intensity, questioning the boundaries between performer and audience, tradition and technology.  Formed in 1998, New York's ebullient Ethel is composed of Juilliard-trained performers Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello), and Jennifer Choi (violin). 

Ethel performs adventurous music of the past four decades, with emphasis on works composed since 1995. Its repertoire includes compositions by quartet members as well as Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, David Lang, John Zorn, Steve Reich, John King, Jacob TV, Scott Johnson, Don Byron, Marcello Zavros, Evan Ziporyn, and Mary Ellen Childs. 

Embracing today's most exhilarating music, Ethel has performed with Joe Jackson, Kurt Elling, Bang on a Can, Todd Rundgren, Ursula Oppens, Loudon Wainwright III, STEW, Ensemble Modern, Jill Sobule, Joshua Fried, Iva Bittová, Colin Currie, Thomas Dolby, Steve Coleman, Stephen Gosling, and Polygraph Lounge. Ever re-imagining the possibilities of music performance, Ethel has collaborated with acclaimed directors Annie Dorsen and Daniel Flannery, and renowned choreographers Wally Cardona, Annie-B Parson, and Mathew Janczewski.

Ethel tours the world, appearing on stages as varied as Venice Biennale, Sydney Opera House, Ravinia, TED, Lincoln Center, Holland's TROMP Festival, Kennedy Center, FIAC in Guanajuato, Mexico, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. 

Ethel has released four albums since its debut recording, the self-titled Ethel (Cantaloupe Music, 2003), which was named Billboard'sBest Album for that year. The group's next recording, Light (Cantaloupe Music, 2006), was selected as No. 3 on's Best of 2006: Top Classical Editor's Picks. The group has played as guest artist on a dozen music labels and was recently featured with vocal group Lionheart on John the Revelator: A Mass for Six Voices by Phil Kline (Cantaloupe, Music, 2008). Ethel was also featured on Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman, which received a 2010 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album (Concord Records, 2009).

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