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Sampler Pack at The Hideout: Photo Blog

Sampler Pack at The Hideout: Photo Blog

We were talking before the Hideout show on Saturday and agreeing that the Fall seems like ages ago. It’s been a massive season for us, recording four albums and landing our first European concerts. Ultimately, though, it’s about our home crowd in Chicago, and our final concert of the season felt like a big hang in a living room…one that contains a stage and serves beer, anyway.

We are grateful to our friend, photographer Elliot Mandel, for covering the evening and giving us permission to share his excellent shots. Be sure to check him out on his website!

And how about soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw, y’all? We approached her with a pile of wicked-hard scores and she jumped right in. The collaboration opened up a whole new corner of the sound spectrum for us, and I think it’s safe to say that all five of us kind of fell in love with the music of Harrison Birtwistle as a side-effect.

As many of you know, we decided to add Lee Hyla’s String Quartet No. 4 to our program as a tribute to a composer who was and is so widely loved, admired and missed. As Russ said during the show, Lee ‘s quartet was a massive learning experience for us early on as a group, and it doesn’t surprise any of us that we continue to learn from him and his unique voice even throughout this week as we rehearsed. Hopefully those of you that were at the show had a chance to overhear one of the many stories being shared by his students around the bar and out on the patio.

Pitchfork: Mobile Miniatures

Pitchfork: Mobile Miniatures

Pitchfork“Normally my iPhone ringer is set firmly to “off,” but I recently changed it to a new piece by the esteemed composer and one-time Pulitzer finalist Augusta Read Thomas. It’s a 35-second, anxious tangle of pizzicato and odd-angled violin and cello lines called “You’re Just About to Miss Your Call!” It really captures the existential panic that its title describes.

 

Thomas’s piece was commissioned by the Spektral Quartet, an enterprising Chicago-based string ensemble that recently decided it wanted to populate the world’s iPhones with contemporary classical music. For what they’re calling the Mobile Miniatures project (“Your mobile phone is our newest concert venue”), they contacted 46 composers. For anyone who follows the world of contemporary classical, it’s an embarrassment of riches: everyone from Bang On A Can co-founder David Lang to Nico Muhly to indie figures like Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier and Julia Holter.”

To read the whole article, click here

 

Chicago Tribune: The next accordion star

Chicago Tribune: The next accordion star

chicago-tribune-logo-black“Their mission,” says Labro, referring to the Spektrals, “is to make sure to play new music and traditional repertoire from all genres. And I always wanted to show people that there is music beyond Piazzollla. … That there is life after Piazzolla.”

 

Certainly there is in “From This Point Forward,” which marks the beginning of Labro’s partnership with the Spektral Quartet, not the end. For their next recording, they plan to venture into contemporary classical music.

To read the whole article, click here

 

The Telegraph: The new ring-tone composers

The Telegraph: The new ring-tone composers

telegraph_logo“There’s nothing so irritating as someone else’s ring-tone. First comes the jolt to one’s nerves. Then comes the thought, “You really think THAT’s amusing/good to hear?”, as a burst of One Direction or a mooing cow scrapes tinnily at one’s ears. Of course our own ring-tone is always a model of discreet wit and taste. And yet when it rings we’re always desperate to turn it off, which shows wit and taste aren’t really the issue. The ring-tone is simply beyond redemption. It’s irritation in its purest form, like cold calls or being put on hold.

 

The Spektral Quartet, a Chicago-based string quartet, begs to disagree. They think a ring-tone can be a moment of aural delight, and have commissioned 65 brand-new ring-tone-sized pieces to prove it, all available to download from the quartet’s website. They range from one second in duration to 40, and have been written by 47 American composers of all ages, races and styles.”

To read the whole article, click here

 

Chicago Classical Review: Haydn’s “Seven Last Words” finds luminous expression with Seraphic Fire and Spektral Quartet

Chicago Classical Review: Haydn’s “Seven Last Words” finds luminous expression with Seraphic Fire and Spektral Quartet

Chicago-Classical-Review logo“The Spektral Quartet performed The Seven Last Words alone in Rockefeller Chapel in March 2013, and as a resident ensemble at the University of Chicago, they know how to adjust their performance for the chapel’s acoustics. Each instrumental line, especially the sweet but steely sound of Aurelien Fort Pederzoli’s solo violin, was clear, but the overall texture had a velvet edge. In the sixth movement (“Jesus cried out: I thirst”) of the nine-movement piece, the plucked violins and violas sounded like guitars gliding through a hushed lullaby. This was religious meditation with a gentle edge rather than the sharp angles and angry undercurrent of heaven-storming fire and brimstone.”

To read the whole article, click here

Huffington Post: These Game-Changing Ringtones Bring The Symphony To The Streets

Huffington Post: These Game-Changing Ringtones Bring The Symphony To The Streets

HuffPo“Think of it as public art — except that it’s on your phone.

 

Thanks to an innovative new initiative from the Chicago-based contemporary classical ensemble Spektral Quartet, cell phone users will no longer be limited to a selection of dreary, muzak-esque sound bites or blaring, regrettable Top 40 clips when it comes to choosing their ringtones.

 

Late last month, the quartet launched Mobile Miniatures, a new Kickstarter-backedproject where they commissioned over 45 different composers — including familiar names like Nico Muhly, Julia Holter, the Dirty Projectors’ Olga Bell and Pulitzer Prize winners Shulamit Ran and David Lang — to create original pieces specifically intended to serve as ringtones. The ensemble then performed and recorded the compositions, putting them up for sale on their website.”

To read the whole article, click here

 

Miami Herald: Seraphic Fire takes on ‘The Seven Last Words of Christ’

Miami Herald: Seraphic Fire takes on ‘The Seven Last Words of Christ’

 

The-Miami-Herald-Logo“With perfectly coordinated entrances and silences, Spektral’s mature, passionate rendition had the purity and precision of a Mozart overture. This sober, forceful tone prevailed in the chorus for the remaining seven Sonatas.”

To read the whole article, click here
Chicago Tribune: Can the arts get smart about the smartphone?

Chicago Tribune: Can the arts get smart about the smartphone?

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 Ran’s new ring tones, for a project led by the city’s Spektral Quartet that was to debut at a performance Saturday night, are a perfect example of how the rise of smartphones — so ubiquitous that they are carried by 64-year-old classical composers and rap-loving grade schoolers alike — is making people approach their art form from new angles. 

To read the whole article, click here

Chicago Magazine: The Spektral Quartet Has Released the Most Beautiful Ringtones

Chicago Magazine: The Spektral Quartet Has Released the Most Beautiful Ringtones

Chicago Magazine logo

 To new-music lovers around Chicago, the four string players of Spektral Quartet seem like they’re everywhere—not just in the concert hall. They’re also in your local bar, playing their Sampler Pack series. And they’re in your living room, with their first album, Chambers, released this past fall. Now they’re trying to get into your pocket.

 

The quartet commissioned more than 40 composers to write ringtones, alarms, and alerts for cellphones. This Saturday, the miniatures drop—not a word you usually like associated with your cellphone—at a party at Constellation. The Spektralists will play short sets of some of the pieces that can be played live, and listening stations will allow attendees to hear all of them. The $15 ticket price includes five free downloads. Also, the local composers Marcos Balter and Chris Fisher-Lochhead will add to the project by writing ringtones live at the party. 

To read the whole article, click here

Classical Voice North America: Forget Wagner, Quartet Dials Up New Ring Cycles

Classical Voice North America: Forget Wagner, Quartet Dials Up New Ring Cycles

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 CHICAGO – Among life’s minor annoyances are all too many ringtones — cheesy, over-played 1980s pop songs or the boring electronic combinations pre-programmed by the phone companies.

 

The Spektral Quartet believes it has just the antidote: Mobile Miniatures. It has recorded more than 60 jazzy, gentle and edgy ringtones, alerts and wake-up alarms for mobile phones, all freshly created by 46 composers across the U.S. Beginning March 29, they will be available for 50 cents apiece or $20 for the set at spektralquartet.com.

 

For the Chicago-based string ensemble, the project is not only a way to provide a practical product to phone users, but it is also an opportunity to take contemporary classical music into a new realm, work with a broad swath of composers, and build the quartet’s profile along the way. 

To read the whole article, click here

Chicago Sun-Times: ‘Mobile Miniatures’ project delivers wee symphonies to your cell phone

Chicago Sun-Times: ‘Mobile Miniatures’ project delivers wee symphonies to your cell phone

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Thus, this new idea was born a year ago, as a way to champion the work of peers and feeding a desire to engage with a new medium. “We have done collaborations with other types of artists in multimedia, and Mobile Miniatures was an extension of that,” says Rolen. “It bridges this old genre we work in with modern-day life in a way that people can relate to and understand, and hopefully gets string music out in the world in a larger way to entice people to become more interested in hearing it.” 

To read the whole article, click here

 

 

Sniff My Pits!

Sniff My Pits!

We’ve all been there…

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Two hours in a suit or gown, the stage lights radiating down with the heat of a thousand suns as you tear through a Presto movement. The lateral blast of the air conditioning creates a frigid ring at your collar, the wet blooming outward with every passing measure. Ticklish beads of sweat scurry down from the under-arm toward the culvert at the belt line.

As you stand for the final bow, you consider the options for greeting friends and fans in the lobby. The old elbows-planted-at-the-waist hug? A quick change of shirt? Did you bring an extra shirt? 

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Old Man and the C cheats on his Dr. Beat

Old Man and the C cheats on his Dr. Beat

It’s been a little while since I dropped some music gear recommendations on you, but trust me on this…this one is well worth the wait!

I remember being ecstatic when metronome apps first started surfacing on iOS, and then quickly realizing that I needed to play everything ppppp with it if I stood any chance of actually hearing the click. Even some of the more robust metronomes (in terms of custom subdivisions) like Metronomics are essentially useless in an ensemble setting because they are about as audible as:

Marcel

So the options are, 1) cart around a Dr. Beat DB-90 and its requisite power adapter or 2) plug the iPhone into an existing stereo system or speaker and be constantly bending over or running across the room to adjust settings and turn it on/off. Both options are lousy.

Then it hit me: Bluetooth speaker, son!

I had ignored these when they were first introduced because of their dubious audio quality, but for a metronome, this strident mono sound would be perfect. After much deliberation, I decided on the TekNmotion Air Capsule because it pumps out good volume and (full aesthetic disclosure), it is housed in sexy brushed aluminum. It’s small enough to fit in my messenger bag, isn’t tethered by any cabling (BT connection to my iPhone) and runs for days on an internal rechargeable battery. This thing is changing my musical life, for real, and it doubles as a hands-free device in the car. While it isn’t loud enough for a string quartet going full-tilt fffff, it is more than enough for most sonic scenarios. If you want even more decibels, some of these speakers can be daisy-chained (TekNmotion cannot).

Now, your metronome app of choice is ready for business and your phone can remain on the stand with you. Time to go get groovy…

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Q2 Music Album of the Week: Spektral Quartet’s ‘Chambers’ Conveys a Vintage Sheen

Q2 Music Album of the Week: Spektral Quartet’s ‘Chambers’ Conveys a Vintage Sheen

wqxr_logo“New Yorkers should brace themselves for a pang of envy. Listening to “Chambers,” the inaugural release from both the Spektral Quartet and their fellow Chicagoans at the Parlour Tapes+ label, one could hardly imagine a more promising debut from either.

 

Here’s another one of those brief glimpses the rest of the country is periodically afforded into to the first-rate new-music scene of the so-called Second City, and the sheer rigor and vision of the musicianship it offers is painfully tantalizing.”

To read the whole article, click here

Someone Other Than Harold in Italy: An Interview with Mario Lavista

Someone Other Than Harold in Italy: An Interview with Mario Lavista

In reprogramming our Sampler Pack this Sun, I enthusiastically threw in a pitch for Mario Lavista’s cuarderno e viajea solo viola number constructed exclusively of harmonics. I had an opportunity to work with Mario while on tour with ensemble dal niente in 2012, performing this piece at the Festival Internacional Chihuahua, and this composer’s artistic generosity is something that’s never left me. I remember being a little anxious to play for him, given his prominence in Mexico (and beyond) and the precariousness of navigating harmonics, but it took mere seconds to feel at ease in the warmth of Mario’s profound love for live performance.

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I had the chance to ask Mario a few questions this week about his inspiration for what has become one of my go-to pieces when a family member or friend throws me every musician’s favorite curveball: “Play me something!”

 

DA: At the time you wrote cuaderno de viaje, what or whom was motivating you as a composer?

ML: I wrote the piece for an Italian viola player, Maurizio Barbetti. At that time I was very much involved in working with natural harmonics and I wanted to continue the kind of work I had already done in my second string quartet, called “Reflections of the night”, which is based entirely on natural harmonics.

DA: I find myself playing this piece in the practice room as a kind of “looking-inward” even when there’s not a performance of it on the horizon. Did you envision it being as much an intimate experience for the performer as for the audience?

ML: Yes, for me music is an intimate experience for the performer as well as for the audience. I think that is was Stravinsky who pointed out that music is addressed to every particular soul, not to a group of people.

DA: Did you set out to write a piece solely in harmonics, or did the piece you intended to write simply land in that timbral approach?

ML: I wanted to write a solo piece based on natural harmonics. When you do this you are aware, or you must be aware, that you do not choose the pitches: they have already been chosen by each string or fundamental. So you only can change the order of the pitches.

DA: cuaderno de viaje strikes me as a very personal work. Was it written for, or inspired by someone in particular?

ML: The piece is dedicated to Claudia, my only daughter, and was written during a trip in Italy where I met Maurizio Barbetti.

 

You can discover more of Mario Lavista’s music here

Inside the Composer’s Studio: An Interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 2 of 2]

Inside the Composer’s Studio: An Interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 2 of 2]

Read Part 1 here…

The other composer featured in our Logan Center space during the Jan 25th Inside the Composer’s Studio event was Igor Santos. Much of his violin/viola duet memory, memorialization – o urubú e o gavião compels the listener to hyper-focus, starting as it does with toneless 32nd-note glissandi in the viola part. It made for a dynamite pairing with Phil’s lyrical Apparitions of Snowand for our Constellation show this Sun, each will be featured on one half of the program. 

One of the primo benefits of doing what we do as a quartet is getting to chew the fat with so many manipulators of sound and silence. It keeps it farm-stand fresh!

As such, I had a few questions for Igor after the premiere of his new work:

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DA: It seems to me that writing your piece was an opportunity to explore extended-technique notation, but in a cohesive, and non-etude way. What were you most surprised at in this process?

IS: I had written the piece aware that you guys were going to play it, so I knew I could rely on an experienced body of knowledge for contemporary performance practice. I wasn’t terribly surprised, to be honest, that we were able to fix and sculpt sounds rather quickly, almost in real time, to what I had imagined.

DA: How does listening to your new work in the practice room with Austin and I compare to the way you heard it in the Logan concert setting? Did the audience change anything for you?

IS: Yes, I would say the audience changed my perception quite dramatically. Because my piece it is extremely soft for most of its duration, it was interesting to feel the tension in the room as everyone is focusing their listening intensely to be able to hear the sounds being produced.

DA: What was the most bizarre question an audience member asked you that night?

IS: I was really pleased to hear this question, twice: “Are you Brazilian?”. Two Brazilian audience members told me they came to the concert because they saw the title of the piece “…o urubú e o gavião”, and assumed I was from Brazil (which is correct). They also told me they liked the piece (this is perhaps, the bizarre part), and that it was their first time attending a contemporary music concert.

 

Inside the Composer’s Studio: an interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 1 of 2]

Inside the Composer’s Studio: an interview with Phil Taylor & Igor Santos [Part 1 of 2]

And now for some concert format real juice:

On January 25th, Austin and I were invited to perform two new violin/viola duets written by University of Chicago composers Phil Taylor and Igor Santos. As a co-producer of Inside the Composer’s Studio, Phil curated a set of three rooms at the Logan Center in which brand-new pieces were performed, the audience rotating every 20 minutes. First off…getting the crowd up off its ass periodically is a fantastic concert strategy. What made this show even more engaging, though, was the papering of the walls with composer sketches for each number. With early versions and feverish-looking notes hanging behind them, Phil and Igor were there to answer questions about process before and after Austin and I played, and the whole vibe was just brilliant.

So when we found ourselves reprogramming our Feb 9th Sampler Pack at Constellation, we knew we wanted to reboot these duets for the north side crowd. I caught up with Phil recently to get his thoughts on his Composer’s Studio piece, Apparitions of Snow:

 

Taylor_headshot_bwDA: I was really taken with how beautifully you paired the violin and viola in a largely tonal idiom. This was less an assignment and more a totally excellent way to land a first date, right?

PT: Definitely! There was no set task for this piece. For ‘Inside the Composer’s Studio’ we came up with several contrasting instrumentations to give each room a different personality, then the six composers decided which chamber group they wanted as their collaborators. I knew immediately that I wanted to write a string duo, and had you and Austin in mind from the very beginning. The idiom/language of Apparitions is what I always do; I’m constantly trying to expand my palette as an artist, but in a way that allows me to remain true to myself and my gut instincts when it comes to the music.

DA: How does listening to your new work in the practice room with Austin and I compare to the way youheard it in the Logan concert setting? Did the audience change anything for you?

PT: To my ears the piece is so intimate that it didn’t really change that much. Of course, the space was bigger and that will always change some things about the experience, but the gestalt of the work remained the same to me. It really is close-knit chamber music with the focus of the two players less towards the audience and more towards one another. I’m excited to hear it again (on a second date) at Constellation, in an even larger space — and likely a larger audience — and to see if that makes a difference.

DA: What was the most bizarre question an audience member asked you that night?

PT: There were no truly weird ones, unfortunately. One listener asked whether doing the kind of sketch display we had that evening was invasive to the composers — as an audience member he felt voyeuristic, as if he shouldn’t be looking behind this particular curtain. To me, the whole point of the evening was to get inside the composers’ heads a little bit more… maybe from the outside view there’s more going on in there than some people want to know!

 

Tomorrow, my interview with Igor Santos…

 

 

 

Chicago Reader: In Rotation

Chicago Reader: In Rotation

Chicago Reader logoSpektral Quartet Where do I even start with these guys? In my eyes, they’re leading the charge toward progressive, high-caliber contemporary classical, re­inventing the concept of chamber music and taking programs fit for Symphony Center to the Empty Bottle and beyond. One particularly groundbreaking project is their new release, Chambers, which features composers solely from the burgeoning Chicago contemporary-classical scene and came out on Parlour Tapes. Yep, that’s right—a new classical-­music release on a cassette label.”

To read the whole article, click here

Chicago Reader: Our favorite music of 2013

Chicago Reader: Our favorite music of 2013

Chicago Reader logo“The members of the Spektral Quartet have remarkable technique and keen imaginations, but their marketing savvy contributes just as much to their success—they organize programs that intelligently collide classics by the likes of Britten, Ravel, and Haydn with starkly modern contemporary work (with a focus on locals). The group sticks exclusively to Chicago-based composers on its fantastic debut album; it features fine work by Eliza Brown and Chris Fisher-Lochhead, among others, and it’s named after a three-movement piece by Marcos Balter. I’m especially fond of Liza White’s “Zin Zin Zin Zin,” inspired by a spontaneous phrase Mos Def dropped on “Double Trouble” (a track he made with the Roots), but everything here is fantastic—including the thorny moodiness in Hans Thomalla’s “Albumblatt” and the ferocious constellations of tempo-shifting sawing and strummed double stops in Ben Hjertmann’s String Quartet no. 2 Etude.”

To read the whole article, click here

New Music Box: SOUNDS HEARD – CHAMBERS

New Music Box: SOUNDS HEARD – CHAMBERS

New Music Box logo“Now in their fourth season, Spektral Quartet is currently ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago and already a well-known champion of Chicago composers, including the six whose works are featured on the group’s first commercial disc release. Since I heard Spektral perform at Chicago’s Empty Bottle this August, I’ve been intrigued by their homebrewed approach to contemporary music. Their first CD offering (also available on cassette, for those with an ’89 Volkswagen Golf or similar playback device) is not only a calling card for the group’s formative artistic collaborations but also a richly detailed portrait of Chicago’s up-and-coming contemporary music scene.”

To read the whole article, click here