The Lost String Quartet
The Latest Update
Launching the film of “The Lost String Quartet!”
I am super excited to announce the final phase of my project – the official release of Cyprian Films/Minos Papas’ fabulous film of
The Lost String Quartet:
A theatrical string quartet for children (and playful adults of all ages)
Concept and original music: Stephanie Griffin
Script and theater direction: Fernando Villa Proal
Based on the book THE LOST STRING QUARTET by N. M. Bodecker
Copyright © 1983 by N. M. Bodecker
Adapted for the stage by permission of Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division. All rights reserved.
I’ve embedded the entire film into this update – and you can also read more about the whole project on Momenta’s new Lost String Quartet web page.
For the purposes of New Music USA, the project is now officially over, but it is really just the beginning! Our production designer, Pedro Pazarán Trujillo, designed the show so that the whole production fits into four heavy suitcases…and the Momenta Quartet and Fernando Villa Proal would love to bring it to you!
We already performed the piece for 400 New York public school children under the auspices of Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène’s incredible program, The Time In Children’s Arts Initiative. The children ranged in age from 5 to 11, and all of them loved the show! You will see happy children interacting with Fernando and Momenta in the film. Adults really enjoyed it too…
So I am reaching out to the New Music USA community, and asking you all this:
If you know of any presenters who would like to bring this production to your area, please let me know. In fact, Fernando will be in New York in early September and we have plans to bring him for some shows in Philadelphia in mid February to early March 2019 – so those would be two perfect times! Any other time is possible, too, of course – flights from Mexico City are not that expensive…
Meanwhile, since this will be my final update on the project – here are some thoughts about what The Lost String Quartet meant to me as a composer:
The Lost String Quartet is an original concert-length theatrical string quartet piece for children and playful adults of all ages, based on the children’s book by N. M. Bodecker, with my concept and music, script and theater direction by Fernando Villa Proal, and performance by Fernando with my own string quartet, the Momenta Quartet. Fernando and Momenta combine physical comedy and musical performance to recount the bizarre misadventures of a string quartet on its way to a gig on the other side of the mountain. Throughout the course of the story, the quartet’s car and all of its instruments are destroyed. As each instrument meets its unfortunate demise, an original junkyard creation by experimental percussionist Michael Evans takes its place. As the old adage goes – the show must go on! Against all odds, the Momenta Quartet gives a concert that everyone in the audience will certainly remember.
Like in the story, this film version of The Lost String Quartet is the culmination of years of adventures for me, starting from the moment I found N. M. Bodecker’s book at a book vendor’s stall on Broadway at West 73rd Street over ten years ago. Adapting this book into a theatrical string quartet has been a dream for me ever since then. The concept was immediately clear to me, but it took me a while to get to it, since I didn’t really know anyone in theater. I am glad I waited, because at that time I was not self-identifying as a composer, and I would have spent lots of time fundraising to outsource my idea to another composer!
Every couple years I revisited the idea, and when I was no longer consciously thinking about it, I met the perfect director and actor, Fernando Villa Proal, at Momenta’s concert at the Búcareli 69 Casa de Artes in Mexico City in 2015. Then ensued the quest for the composer – who turned out to be me! Who would have guessed?
By the time all that came together, the optimum audience became apparent – namely the children of Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène’s incredible program, The Time In Children’s Arts Initiative. And the venue – of course we would do the world premiere production in Time In’s gorgeous gallery space in Chelsea – and just in the nick of time, since Time In had to give up the space only months thereafter.
Then there was the challenge of doing something I had never done before. I had not yet composed something of this scope, and had never collaborated with a theater artist. Moreover my creative collaborator lived in Mexico City! It was exciting – Fernando and I Skyped at least once a month, and after many hours of discussion the form of the piece emerged, and Fernando began to email me drafts of the script. I started sketching music and working with Michael Evans on creating the homemade instruments.
Once the creative work began, there ensued a massive fundraising effort. I was fortunate to receive this project grant from New Music USA, and another one from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), and Momenta had some grant money of its own from NYSCA, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, The Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University and the Amphion Foundation. Still not enough – but this project was clearly meant to be: just at the perfect moment I was awarded composition fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) in 2016 and from The Jerome Foundation in 2017. Without that support it would have been very difficult to mount the world premiere production, and absolutely impossible to make the film!
Thankfully, my fellowship awards also made it possible for me to bring Fernando twice to the United States. On his first trip, in August 2017, he joined Momenta at Fred Tauber’s Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire. I don’t know how we would have put the whole piece together without Avaloch Farm. It was absolutely perfect to be all together in the countryside, with our own studio, all the homemade instruments, no distractions, and an incredible chef cooking three meals a day for us…
The next hurdle: Momenta had to learn how to act! Through Fernando’s Facebook connections, we met the astounding actress and physical comedy coach, Hilary Chaplain. She is a remarkable teacher and if you live in NYC, I highly recommend her physical comedy workshops.
And then Fernando brought Pedro Pazarán Trujillo on board to design the whole production and oversee the making of all the set, props and costumes in Mexico City.
The whole project was magical, and I couldn’t have even imagined a happier outcome.
Beyond what the project meant to me, and to all of my collaborators, the most important aspect of The Lost String Quartet is its audience. For many of 400 children who saw the piece in New York City last December, this show was their first experience of a live string quartet and their first exposure to contemporary concert music and live theater. And we are deeply committed to sharing this show with many more children in the years to come: the Momenta Quartet and Fernando Villa Proal are ready to haul those 4 heavy suitcases and all our instruments to whatever venue can bring more kids who would like to see it!
I hope you all enjoy the film and wish you all the best for your summer travels and adventures,
A full house yesterday and an excellent review!
Photo by Nana Shi
Yesterday’s public performance of The Lost String Quartet was a success! We had a full house, thanks to all of you who came out and told your friends about it. I really appreciate your support.
Meanwhile, we just received an excellent review of our Friday morning performance in the blog New York Music Daily:
I will keep you posted if and when other reviews come out, and will share more footage of the event as it emerges.
All the best,
A successful run for the Time In kids, a public show tomorrow and a listing in the New York Times!
As of yesterday afternoon, our run of “The Lost String Quartet” for the children of The Time In Children’s Arts Initiative is over. We had a wonderful time performing for almost 400 kids from upper Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, and here is a little video of the last group of kids (Grade 2) saying goodbye.
After yesterday’s two shows, we had a film shoot with Minos Papas and his crew from Cyprian Films. More about that later….and we are very excited about the final (and public!) show tomorrow morning at 11am.
We also just found out that we got a listing in the New York Times! Very exciting….and here is the link:
We look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow and all the best,
A Grade 4 perspective on “The Lost String Quartet”
Today was a very special day at the Time In Children’s Arts Initiative. The 54 children who were supposed to attend our first show of the morning got stuck in terrible traffic from East Flatbush and ended up arriving at the time of the second show – so, we performed for 104 kids, ranging from kindergarten to grade 4 all at the same time. It was a lively crowd! (That’s one way to put it…) You can also say we had a sold-out show.
Again the kids enjoyed it. I like to think they are going wild over my viola solo, but, alas, I think it might be the boa constrictor puppet…
Two of the grade 4 girls offered their perspective in this short video.
I hope you can all come to the public show on Sunday, December 10 at 11am, meanwhile….
All the best,
The reviews are in!
The Momenta Quartet is about halfway through its run of The Lost String Quartet!
We’ve already given four exclusive private shows for the children of Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène’s fabulous program, The Time In Children’s Arts Initiative.
So far we’ve shared this show with about 160 kids. And there are 4 more private shows to go, tomorrow and Friday.
Meanwhile, there is only one public show, THIS SUNDAY December 10 at 11am.
It’s free, but space is limited, so please reserve your ticket now on Brown Paper Tickets.
You don’t need to bring a kid – trust me – I already know that there will be a lot of unchaperoned adults, so, please don’t be shy.
Meanwhile if you are thinking of bringing some kids, I’m sure they will enjoy it! The crowds went wild on Tuesday and today. Please watch the video above for the perspective of two five-year-olds who attended our world premiere.
Thank you and I hope to see you on Sunday!
Ticket reservation link and a video of a live performance of one of the pieces from The Lost String Quartet
The Lost String Quartet is happening!!!
Director Fernando Villa Proal and his scenographer Pedro Pazarán Trujillo arrived from Mexico on Monday, November 27 with 3 suitcases full of props and costumes.
After daily rehearsals at the Time In Children’s Arts Initiative, the Momenta Quartet is about ready to become a theater troupe….
There is only one public show, next Sunday, December 10 at 11am at 227 W. 29th Street, Studio 4R in NYC. The event is free, but reservations are highly recommended since seating is limited. Please book your tickets at:
Meanwhile, here is a short video of Momenta performing a concert version of one of the pieces from The Lost String Quartet on the chamber music series at the Chapel Restoration in Cold Spring New York on October 22, 2017.
Enjoy! And I hope to see you soon,
The Making of The Lost String Quartet: Video no. 1 by Nana Shi, from our residency at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute
The Lost String Quartet will have its world premiere run at the Time In Gallery in early December. The public show will be on Sunday, December 10 at 11am at 227 W. 29th, Studio 4R in NYC. And we will be performing for the children of the Time In Children’s Arts Initiative at 10am and noon every day from December 5th through the 8th.
This summer my collaborator Fernando Villa Proal came to New York City and he and I traveled with all of Momenta and our instrument designer Michael Evans to develop the piece at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute. This video is the first of three videos which pianist/photographer/videographer Nana Shi made for us. You can hear some of the music and an interview with me and Fernando about the origins of this project.
Enjoy the video and please save the morning of December 10th! You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this!!! Of course, feel free to bring all your kid friends too. (It’s free admission, thanks to all of our support from New Music USA, the LMCC, Alice M. Ditson Fund, the Amphion Foundation, NYSCA and some of my fellowship funding from NYFA and the Jerome Foundation.)
If anyone has any ideas of groups of kids to invite on December 10th, please let me know, too!
All the best,
Rough recording of Part II “Happy Car Ride”
The Momenta Quartet visited John Gurrin’s Studio Recording at the film school at NYU last Tuesday, and I used the opportunity to make a rough recording of the music to Part II of The Lost String Quartet with my fearless ensemble, the Momenta Quartet. Early in N.M. Bodecker’s story, the near-sighted cellist drives right into a construction site, resulting in the destruction of both car and cello. This part of the piece tells that part of the story. It will lead right into the cello solo, which I shared with you a couple weeks ago. (My rough recording of a viola version of it – Un cygne des temps – is also still up on my Soundcloud page.) In this short quartet piece, Mozart fans may notice some quotations from the Finale of his String Quartet in G Major, K. 387, which will be a unifying thread throughout the whole work. I hope you enjoy this and more updates will be coming soon!
Rough draft recording of the cello solo from The Lost String Quartet
Thanks for following my project. I’ve been working away on composing the piece. A few updates: the performances will take place in December 2017. In June, we will have a rehearsal retreat with Michael Evans (homemade instrument designer) and director Fernando Villa Proal.
Meanwhile, over the holiday season, I wrote the cello solo for the moment the cello gets destroyed in the disastrous story of The Lost String Quartet.
Here is a very rough IPhone recording of me playing it up an octave on the viola. Enjoy!
All the best,
I am seeking support from New Music USA for the creation of a new theatrical string quartet piece for children, The Lost String Quartet, based on N.M. Bodecker’s delightful illustrated children’s book and featuring my original music, theater direction and narration by Fernando Villa Proal, and the interdisciplinary prowess of my own string quartet, the Momenta Quartet. We will premiere the new work over four consecutive days for over five hundred inner city children under the auspices of The Time In Children’s Arts Initiative in early December 2017.
The Lost String Quartet is a far-fetched story about all the terrible mishaps that befall a string quartet on its way to a concert in the thick of winter. By the time they make it there, the cello has been destroyed, one of the violins is lodged within a tire, the other violin is stuck to a bag of frozen peas and the viola has been swallowed by a boa constrictor.
The music for The Lost String Quartet will not be incidental music for a play, but rather a fully integrated theatrical piece in which the members of the Momenta Quartet serve as actors and musicians. Fernando Villa Proal will narrate and take the stage from time to time, representing the various characters the quartet encounters in its misadventures.
Using the ebullient Finale of Mozart’s String Quartet in G, K. 387 as a point of departure, I will cast the piece as a set of variations, with each one becoming more outrageous as the story develops and the instruments are compromised, culminating in a final movement played on homemade instruments.
I have been gestating this work since buying the book from a Broadway street vendor over ten years ago. While I make my living as an improviser and performer of contemporary music, I returned to composing my own music in 2014. The piece speaks to my strengths: incorporating through-composed and improvisational elements, and my years of experience playing in a variety of experimental settings, including Skip Laplante’s Music for Homemade Instruments. My first string quartet will be a major landmark in my career, and I look forward to writing for the Momenta Quartet, with whom I have tackled other theatrical quartet works by Tan Dun, George Crumb and Mauricio Kagel.
I met Fernando Villa Proal this past October, while in Mexico with the Momenta Quartet, and absolutely loved his inventive and hilarious two-man rendition of Lope de Vega’s farcical El Principe Ynocente.
The most important aspect of The Lost String Quartet will be its audience: over five hundred children from inner city Harlem public schools who participate in the programs of the Time In Children’s Arts Initiative. For many of these children, it will be their first experience of a live string quartet and their first exposure to contemporary concert music. By connecting live music performance with Fernando’s comedic sense and N.M. Bodecker’s whimsical story, we hope to provide a delightful experience, which they will remember fondly in many years to come.
An excerpt from composer Stephanie Griffin’s Poem from Exile (2015) for Seven Violas, from its recent world premiere performance in New York City on March 31, 2016. This is an example of one of Griffin’s fully notated compositions for strings. The Lost String Quartet will be a fully notated work for a primarily non-improvising ensemble, but due to the nature of the story, it will also involve aleatory elements. For examples of Griffin’s compositions involving improvisation, please visit her profile page.
This video is from the Momenta Quartet’s live performance of Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera on the Ear Heart Music series in New York City on June 24, 2014 with pipa virtuoso Zhou Yi. It demonstrates the Momenta Quartet’s strengths in theatrical music performance, required for The Lost String Quartet project. Suggested viewing excerpts:
4:31 – 9:44: demonstrates vocals, percussion work, movement in space
25:00 – 31:48: demonstrates more elaborate percussion work, some vocals and movement
This short promotional video for Fernando Villa Proal’s production of his two actor adaptation of Lope de Vega’s classic farce El Principe Ynocente demonstrates facets of his work which make him the ideal collaborator for The Lost String Quartet. He is both the director and one of the actors (the one sneezing in the first part of this video). The production shows his ability to tell a story and portray various characters with limited props and a simple set, and his comedic timing and physical theater. Note: Fernando is also fluent in English.
Start and End Dates
06/05/2017 — 06/16/2018
New York, New York