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ETHEL's Foundation for the Arts

New York, NY            

ETHEL’s commitment to innovation and artistic excellence is long and deep.  Founded in 1998, the quartet has been part of the New York City musical ecosystem since its inception.  Acclaimed as “indefatigable and eclectic” (The New York Times), “vital and brilliant,” “downtown’s reigning string quartet” (The New Yorker), and “one of the most exciting quartets around” (Strad Magazine), ETHEL invigorates the contemporary music scene with exuberance, intensity, imaginative programming, and exceptional artistry.

At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos – a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. As cultural and musical “pollinators,” the quartet brings its discoveries to audiences through multi-dimensional musical repertoire and community engagement as it generates new works and harnesses and connects the energy and creativity of its collaborators. 

ETHEL has appeared on stages as varied as the Venice Biennale, Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Center, Toronto’s Royal Conservatory, Kennedy Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and MASS MoCA. The group appears at festivals, community events, schools, and campuses in New York City and nationwide. ETHEL tours have reached every region of the U.S., as well as Western Europe, Russia, and Australia.

A musical linchpin for creative production and a ubiquitous presence in New York City, the quartet has performed in venues big and small, from Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors to The Stone; from The Park Avenue Armory to National Sawdust.  ETHEL participates in city-wide festivals such as the BoAC Marathon, Ecstatic Music, Celebrate Brooklyn!, and River to River, and has conducted educational programs at Juilliard, Mannes, and in city public and independent schools. ETHEL has been Ensemble-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum’s Balcony Bar since 2012, making over 40 appearances per year.

ETHEL performs adventurous music by celebrated contemporary composers such as Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, David Lang, John King, Missy Mazzoli, John Zorn, Steve Reich, Anna Clyne, Don Byron, John King, Marcelo Zarvos, Pamela Z, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Terry Riley, and Mary Ellen Childs, much of it composed for ETHEL. The group’s repertoire is exclusively written by living composers, with an emphasis on works created since 1995.

Commissioning and Premieres: Since 2005, ETHEL has premiered 160+ 21st century works by 90 ground-breaking composers.  Fiftythree composers were commissioned by ETHEL in that timeframe. They include Phil Kline, Osvaldo Golijov, Anna Clyne, Dohee Lee, Jacob TV, Kaki King, John King, Jerome Kitzke, Missy Mazzoli, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Andy Akiho, and Julia Wolfe, in addition to the eight Documerica commissions.   

ETHEL’s HomeBaked series commissions works by emerging NYC artists and is currently in its third round of activity. 

Collaborations: Always striving to demonstrate the unifying power of music, ETHEL has initiatedinnovative collaborations with an extraordinary community of international artists including David Byrne, Bang on a Can, Todd Rundgren, Kaki King, Carlo Mombelli, Ursula Oppens, Juana Molina, Tom Verlaine, STEW, Ensemble Moderne, Jill Sobule, Dean Osborne, 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.

 Residencies: Since 2012, ETHEL has been Ensemble-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar, where it performs newly acquired and existing repertoire.  Charged with providing music each Friday and Saturday evening, the quartet curates “ETHEL and Friends,” booking its New York City colleagues to play a range of classical, world, and new music at the Met.  ETHEL also cooperates with the Department of Concerts and Lectures to augment museum-wide programs with musical additions, and to program special events such as Teens Take the Met.

ETHEL is Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University, in a collaboration between the Department of Music and the Vail Series. The Ensemble-in-Residence engages the entire campus and the greater community in an exploration of music and other academic disciplines.

Recording: ETHEL’s debut eponymous CD was a Billboard Magazine “Best Recording of 2003.” Its second CD, Light, ranked #3 on Amazon.com’s “Best of 2006” and #5 on WYNC’s “Best of 2006 Listener Poll.” Heavy was released in 2012 to great critical acclaim. ETHEL’s Documerica was released in 2015, and The River in June 2016. ETHEL has appeared as a guest artist on many albums, including: 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).

Capacity and Artist Compensation: As can be seen in ETHEL’s budget, significant resources are dedicated each year to artists’ compensation, including guest artists’ fees, Met Museum performance fees, and composer commissions. ETHEL’s Foundation for the Arts, with its 12-member board of directors, supports the activities of the band, many of which are directed towards strengthening and enhancing New York City’s musical community.

Partnerships: ETHEL partners with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to provide weekend musical offerings at the museum.  Past partnerships have included residencies at The Park Avenue Armory and Center at West-Park, and participation in Bloomberg Philanthropies Arts Advancement Initiative for New York City-based arts organizations.

Recent Activity Highlights: ETHEL’s creative activity in New York City underpins the group’s local, national, and international position in the contemporary music world. Activities include creation of performance programs; commissioning and premieres of new works; collaboration with a range of artists; community engagement; and recording. All of ETHEL’s programs are conceived and developed in New York City, where the group taps the city’s broad resources and incubates new collaborations and projects. 

2015/16 Season

New York City:  ETHEL’s 2015/16 season featured the world premiere of Blue Dress, at National Sawdust, the heralded new music venue in Williamsburg. ETHEL’s newest signature evening-length program, Blue Dress pays special homage to women who are making their musical mark on the 21st century, including Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Wolfe, Missy Mazzoli, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Lainie Fefferman, Mary Ellen Childs, Anna Clyne, Pamela Z, Paola Prestini and ETHEL’s own Dorothy Lawson. The centerpiece of Blue Dress is Julia Wolfe’s “Blue Dress for String Quartet,” commissioned by ETHEL. ETHEL commissions by Mazzoli, Fefferman, Childs, Clyne, and Lawson are also featured.  The program is touring nationally in 2016/17.

The quartet appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar, both as full quartet and duo/trio combinations frequently throughout the season, booking other prominent NYC ensembles when ETHEL was on tour.  The group performed the music of Jerome Kitzke in a 50th birthday concert at DiMenna Center for Classical Music; appeared at Chelsea Piers; and performed with collaborator Dan Friel at The Cutting Room.  An outdoor concert was offered at the Seaglass Carousel at Battery Park Conservancy.  A four day improvisation workshop, culminating in a concert for the full school community and parents, took place at Avenues Schools.

Touring: The multimedia concert program, ETHEL’s Documerica, premiered at BAM’s Next Wave Festival, toured throughout the U.S. during the 2015/17 and current 2016/17 seasons. Directed by OBIE Award-winner Steve Cosson, the show incorporates thousands of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Project Documerica images into a projection design by renowned artist Deborah Johnson. Documerica features new work by ETHEL members and music the quartet commissioned from four other uniquely American artists: the acclaimed composer Mary Ellen Childs; GRAMMY® Award-winning jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr.; Chickasaw Nation’s Jerod Impichcháachaaha’ Tate; and James “Kimo” Williams, recipient of West Point’s bicentennial composer commission. Hailing from different regions, backgrounds and generations, each composer contributes his or her distinctive voice to a score that represents the diversity of America.

Reviewing the work’s world premiere in BAM’s Next Wave Festival, The New York Times described ETHEL’s Documerica as “new music bonding with old images in rich, provocative and moving ways.”

ETHEL debuted The River in 2015/16, which is currently touring nationwide. The River continues ETHEL’s deeply successful six-year collaboration with Native American musician, instrument builder and three-time GRAMMY® Award-winner Robert Mirabal. This program features music created by ETHEL and Mirabal together on the Taos Pueblo, with music, narrative, and ritual that evokes timeless Native American traditions through contemporary artistry.

Commissioning: In the past two seasons, ETHEL has commissioned and premiered  “Quartet for Queen Mab” by Missy Mazzoli and “Blue Dress for String Quartet” by Pulitzer and MacArthur winner Julia Wolfe.  Both works have entered the quartet’s repertoire as part of ETHEL’s Blue Dress program.  ETHEL’s HomeBaked, a project for emerging New York City composers, has commissioned 16 works.

Recording: In November 2015, Innova Recordings released ETHEL’s Documerica, an album inspired by the tens of thousands of images shot as part of Project Documerica, a decade-long initiative the EPA launched in 1971.  A CD of the artist-generated music from The River was released in June 2016 on Innova.

 2016/17 Season

New York City: The New York premiere of The River with Robert Mirabal was offered at Joe’s Pub in November 2016.  ETHEL continues to perform frequently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar and to curate “ETHEL and Friends”, which provides three hours of music every Friday and Saturday night throughout the year.  The quartet played a collaborative concert with Talujon Percussion at Le Poisson Rouge, featuring the works of Melissa Gray, Peter Jarvis, Svjetlana Bukvich, Milica Paranosic, Dan Cooper, Gene Pritsker, Randy Woolf, and Robert Levin, as part of the Composers Concordance Series.  At National Sawdust, ETHEL presented the world premieres of four commissioned works by Olga Bell, Avi Granite, Sarah Lipstate, and Kyle Tieman-Strauss in the third round of ETHEL’s HomeBaked commissioning initiative for emerging New York City-based composers.

National Touring: ETHEL is touring its Blue Dress, ETHEL’s Documerica, and The River nationwide during 2016/17.  The group will travel to Greece in June to perform at the Stavros Niarchos Festival in Athens.

New projects in development: ETHEL is currently partnering with The Ringling Museum of Art and Projection Designer/Director Grant McDonald to create Circus – Wandering City, a multi-media, evening-long performance program inspired by circus in America to premiere in 2018.  The project will be an immersive musical investigation that mines the Ringling Museum’s archives of photography and historical documentation to inspire an evening of original music, video, and spoken word based on the lives and experiences of circus performers.  McDonald will integrate evocative mapped video with ETHEL’s self-composed music to create unprecedented insight into this seemingly familiar, yet complex and multi-faceted world. A New York premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music is being pursued for fall 2018 in the Next Wave Festival.

Commissioning: ETHEL is currently working with composer Aleksandra Vrebalov to raise funds to commission a new work, This Land is Your Land, inspired by American protest songs. 

ETHEL’s Tuvan Ride with Robert Mirabal

ETHEL and long-time collaborator Robert Mirabal created the original music for The River program at Mirabal’s home on the Taos Pueblo in July 2015. The program was recorded on site. The quintet is touring the program in 2016/17. The NYC premiere took place at Joe’s Pub in November ’16. A recording of The River was released in June, 2016 on Innova Recordings.

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Arrival by Marcelo Zarvos

Arrival is a movement from Nepomuk’s Dances, commissioned by ETHEL and composed by Marcelo Zarvos in in 2000. Recorded at Wells College 9/17/15.

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Moment of Truth by Dorothy Lawson

Moment of Truth is a new composition by Dorothy Lawson that will be part of ETHEL’s current project in development, Circus – Wandering City. Recorded in Millbrook, NY, June, 2016.

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