Sounds of Amerıca

Gramophone’s guide to the classical scene in the US and Canada

Focus ETHEL – page I » The Scene Musical highlights from across North America – page IV »

Reviews The latest CD and DVD releases – page IX » New Releases Index – page XIII



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:p h o T o g R a p h y

Exploring America’s musical roots T

here is nothing predictable about ETHEL, the quartet which bills itself as “America’s favourite string band”. The players’ omnivorous tastes incorporate classical, rock, blues and jazz – but trying to guess their next move is a fool’s errand.

“One of the distinguishing factors of how we make music is by eschewing the guidelines,” says Dorothy Lawson, the cellist of ETHEL, which bypasses standard fare for works composed in the last four decades. The ensemble, which often performs with amplification and multimedia, has premiered 47 new works in the past three years. “With anything that seemed like a sacred cow, we would kindly and gently say, ‘Maybe it’s not for us’. Our goal is not to fit into an orthodoxy. We are very comfortable following the

String Quartet ETHEL has been nurturing its attraction to Native American music, finds

Vivien Schweitzer whims of our own personal tastes and preferences,” she adds.

One of those preferences is a strong attraction to indigenous music, manifested most recently in “Oshtali” – a new recording on the Thunderbird Records label, released in June 2010 and dedicated to music by Native American composers. The disc is the first to showcase works by American Indian students.

“Music is a living art and always changing, fusing, reconnecting and reshaping itself,” says Cornelius Dufallo, one of ETHEL’s violinists. “The fascinating thing about working with young Native American composers is the blend of influences. Music is such an important part of everyday life in many Native American cultures.”

ETHEL’s fascination with this culture dates back to 2005, when the ensemble (formed in 1998) began a multi-year residency at the Native American Composer Apprenticeship Project, part of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, working with young composers on Navajo and Hopi reservations in northern Arizona. This experience intensified the group’s frustration with the standard touring life, with its quick visits to endless cities and lack of interaction with local communities.

To address this problem ETHEL created its TruckStop project, during which the ensemble works with musical communities outside the classical world. Since the initiative was launched in 2007, TruckStops have included a week-long residency with Kaotic Drumline at Dominican University in Chicago and a four-day residency and performances in Albuquerque with Native American flautist Robert Mirabal, now a frequent ETHEL collaborator.

In a separate project from the Grand Canyon festival, Chickasaw Nation composer-in-residence Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, who was familiar with ETHEL’s previous collaborations with Native American musicians, invited the ensemble to work with 11 young composers (aged 13 to 21) who studied with him at the Chickasaw Summer Arts Academy in 2008 and 2009. The Chickasaw