The Lake Michigan Shoreline Is Our Concert Hall: Photo Gallery

  (photo: Daniel Kullman)

(photo: Daniel Kullman)

Our 2018/19 season launched with the world premiere of Tonia Ko’s Plain, Air, commissioned by Chamber Music America and presented in partnership with Chicago conservation organization Openlands…and it was easily one of the most enlivening events we’ve ever attempted.

Rather than simply being inspired musically by the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, Tonia literally made this landscape the stage. The performance took place outdoors, of course (and we couldn’t have been luckier with the weather), but the most unique aspect of this hyper-local piece is the 10-minute nature walk that launches it. Clara, Maeve, and Doyle formed the center of the cluster of hikers, performing from memory and interacting musically with the sixteen speakers chirping out Tonia’s field-recording-inspired sounds before meeting up with Russ at the open-air performance space to conclude the work.

Music, whether familiar or unfamiliar, takes on an entirely different hue when experienced in a context such as this, and we are still buzzing from the unbridled enthusiasm of our audience that day. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will not soon forget, and we are grateful to Tonia Ko for writing such a mesmeric piece, to Openlands president and CEO Jerry Adelmann for making this crazy idea possible (and the wonderful Openlands staff - particularly Jess Smasal), and to Chamber Music America, for supporting the creation of this brilliant new piece.

And thanks to our friend, photographer Daniel Kullman, who took these lustrous photos. Please check out his exceptional (and Emmy-award-winning) work here.

Why Our Album Release Concert Is A Benefit For Puerto Rico

  (photo credit: Canadian Broadcasting Company)

(photo credit: Canadian Broadcasting Company)

It tends to surprise me, though at this point it shouldn’t, just how quickly a catastrophe gets swallowed by the news cycle. In the day prior to Miguel Zenón’s arrival in Chicago for our recording sessions, the front pages and top-of-the-hour newscasts were strewn with images of a submerged Puerto Rico – of razed homes and trees at improbable angles. 

Professional musicians are familiar with the experience of “playing through” adversity: playing a show hundreds of miles away with an ill family member at home, or heading to the concert hall in the midst of a national tragedy (my grad school orchestra didn’t cancel rehearsal on 9/11). So it made some kind of sense that Miguel was drilling rhythms with us at a time when getting a phone call through to the island was a minor miracle. He knew that his mother was safe, but the country was flooded and without power, and at each rehearsal break, he’d steal away to a quiet corner to check in.

And yet now, after a photo op of the president tossing paper towels to victims of the hurricane, the national conversation about the rebuilding Puerto Rico has been pushed to the interior pages of the newspapers. Aside from recent reports that the death toll is not 64, but closer to 3,000, the plight of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico seems to be a footnote, rather than an ongoing effort in the continental US. 

  (photo credit: Sky News)

(photo credit: Sky News)

Given the sheer amount of crises we read about daily, it’s natural that one cares more for those events in which one has a personal interest. I’d like to think that I would have been just as immersed in the situation had it not been the case, but the fact that the artist I was spending my days with was calling home every couple of hours certainly made the experience far more immediate. Conversations at lunch and dinner inevitably turned to the latest news from the island. In this case, though, with a disaster of epic proportions upending the lives of fellow citizens, it seems almost barbaric the way in which many of us have moved on. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to think that had Hurricane Maria wiped out Jacksonville or Charlotte, those cities would not still be largely without power a year later.

  (photo credit: BBC News)

(photo credit: BBC News)

This is why we’ve chosen to make the record release event for Yo Soy La Tradición a benefit for Puerto Rican artists affected by the hurricane. As with any benefit we’ve participated in in the past, we looked for where our tiny effort could make the most significant impact. Infrastructure must be rebuilt and homes must be replaced, for sure, but Puerto Rico is home to vital and unique artistic traditions, and we hope to make a small but meaningful improvement in the lives of these artists. It’s a bit overused these days, but the truth of Winston Churchill’s rejoinder to the question of whether or not he would cut arts funding to support the war effort, remains timely and potent: “Then what are we fighting for?”

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Working with our album release venue, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, we’ve made general admission tickets available at a reasonably low cost. Since all proceeds of this benefit-concert-slash-album-release-party go directly to Chicago Hurricane Aid for Puerto Rican Arts, though, we hope you’ll consider purchasing one of our VIP tickets. 

Together, we can do some good, and have a blast in the process.

Spektral Becomes a Quintet

  (photo credit: Marta Sasinowska)

(photo credit: Marta Sasinowska)

We are ecstatic to announce the newest member of the Spektral team, Alyssa Martinez, who joins us as Development and Production Coordinator!

Deeply embedded in arts scenes around Chicago, Alyssa brings a veritable cornucopia of production and performance experience to her new role with us. We first encountered her manifold talents at a private chamber music series, where she burned brightly as events coordinator and general purveyor of good vibes. Our friendship went into orbit from that day forward, and we can't think of someone who "gets us" more than Alyssa when it comes to our many (and often mischievous) endeavors.

Alyssa currently holds the position of office manager and administrative assistant at Pluto LTD – the company behind such heavyweight music ventures as Pitchfork Music Festival, The Hungry Brain, and Constellation. To answer your question, Kevin, No this does not mean we can get you free VIP passes to Pitchfork.

Alyssa also co-produces of one of Chicago's most delightfully quirky series, The Therapy Sessions: A Talkshow About Feelings, and is the director of the Chicago Community Grant Program, a micro-grant program benefitting community initiatives around Chicago. 

As many of you know, we've been growing rather quickly here in Spektral country, and this hire marks a new chapter for our quartet. We are just so lucky that our first-ever employee is someone as engaging, proficient, and creative as Alyssa.

With that, let us mark this occasion with a Very Spektral Salute:


Behind the Scenes: Miguel Zenón


We have a brand-new record with saxophonist Miguel Zenón – Yo Soy La Tradición – dropping on September 21st, but this album release show is actually a benefit for the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria... a chance to celebrate new music and help out our fellow citizens!

With the date fast approaching, memories of our rehearsals and recording session have resurfaced. We'll delve into Miguel's experience with the fallout from the hurricane – which hit just days before we started working together – but today we'd like to share the rehearsal photos taken by our friend and supporter, Bob Watson.

The music of Yo Soy La Tradición stretched, and continues to stretch, our musicianship. Perhaps the looks on our faces in these photographs make that evident. The end result is a project of which we're extremely proud and eager to share with you at our Once More, With Feeling! series on September 20th (and then the benefit/release show on the 21st). Get ready to groove, friends...

CMI 2018: 'Music Made Visible' Photo Gallery

We had an incredible time presenting our fifth annual Chamber Music Intensive in partnership with the University of Chicago Department of Music and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, with support from the Associated Chamber Music Players. This year we had an absolutely lovely collection of participants, our second go-around teaching alongside pianist Daniel Pesca, and had the great good fortune of inviting violin pedagogue Lucy Chapman as our guest artist. And that's only the half of it...

(photos by unpaid interns Doyle Armbrust and Maeve Feinberg)

DAY 2: Masterclass with Spektral Quartet & Daniel Pesca

DAY 2: Baroque Dance Class with Haymarket Opera Choreographer Sarah Edgar

Day 3: Lucy Chapman Presentation & Masterclass

DAY 3: Sightreading Party

DAY 4: Final Concert


Finding Ourselves in Schoenberg

  (photo credit:  Marc Perlish )

(photo credit: Marc Perlish)

It’s always an interesting exercise to look back at the previous season in the summer months. Like revisiting New Year’s resolutions, it’s a good way to do a personal barometer check and hunker down for a think about questions like “In what elements were we most successful?”, “Did we accomplish what we set out to?”, “How did our goals change along the way?”, “What were our biggest learning experiences?”, “Did we make something meaningful?” Even the busiest summer feels a little like coming up for air, and it’s easy in hindsight for a reflection on the season to resemble a string of highlights and failures. This year has certainly seen it’s fair share of both of those, but I’m ending the season feeling differently about Spektral’s work than I ever have...

Like all seasons, 2017-18 was a long time in coming and was carefully planned in advance. The last few years of political and social unrest have left us raw – confused, wary, frustrated, unsettled, and with a renewed sense of commitment to celebrating diversity, and protecting things that are true. It often seemed this year like history was repeating itself, or perhaps that we as a society have not learned the lessons we should have. We’re armchair scholars of American history at best, but recent events had us thinking about how we might contribute to the current cultural climate in a more holistic way. As an ensemble that plays both contemporary and classical music, we felt that it was important to understand better, and share with our audience, the story of where we came from. The ideas for this season began with a desire to examine questions together like: “What was the path of art music across the 20th century into the present? How have we ended up with the wonderful plethora of compositional languages present in the world today?.” In so considering, we found the music of Arnold Schoenberg to be history’s forgotten link, and hence the birth of In Search of Futures Past.

Doing a string quartet cycle is a unique thing, and doing this one even more so. The explorer of atonality and creator of the 12-tone system, Schoenberg’s life and work spanned Romanticism, Expressionism, and Modernism. His four quartets are masterpieces of the repertoire, but aren’t often played – perhaps they are too out for the “traditional” string quartet, and too old-fashioned for the “new music” quartet (which made them perfect for us). Throwing ourselves into these works and contextualizing them with pieces by Schoenberg’s heroes, contemporaries, and composers inspired by his legacy was immensely satisfying. We searched for the underlying truth of his language and we progressed through these pieces in a way entirely our own. We invited friends who are experts in their fields to cast a bigger light on Schoenberg’s place in history with pre-concert talks. We invited local artists to help us create new connections: together, we paired the music of Schoenberg with a newly crafted beer inspired by a 1908 Viennese lager recipe, found shared experience through a performance at a Frank Lloyd Wright home, and explored other art forms (just like Schoenberg himself did) through painting. We collaborated with and learned from performers who have made Schoenberg a staple of their artistic lives. We worried about who would show up to our concerts of this “out there” music and had more standing-room only audiences than we’ve ever had. We took some of the programs on tour, and totally dorked out with the manuscripts of all four quartets at the Library of Congress. We printed ridiculous things on cakes and had champagne receptions. We played and sang and lived and asked questions of this music for an entire year.

Working on Schoenberg became a constant, a foundational practice that happened day in and day out no matter what else was going on. As always happens, we laughed together and cried together, but this year Schoenberg was always the soundtrack. Doyle and I had epic moves (I got a great new place, and he bought his first home!). Russ had his second child (Hi, Julian!). Maeve got to know Chicago better and absolutely killed during her first complete season. Through all of this and more, Schoenberg happened nearly every day.

On the other side of this work, I can tell you what we discovered musically: Schoenberg’s roots run deep. Across the chronological ordering of quartets 1-4, the intervals change shape, the harmonies become more abstract. But the line, the gesture, the use of dance rhythms and love of song shine through in all four quartets. However modernist his 12-tone system, to us Schoenberg will always be a true Romantic. By reading his letters and essays, I came to know his real confusion about why his music was so often misunderstood and criticized for not having heart. We’re confused about this, too.

I can also tell you what we discovered personally, and why I feel different this year than at the end of other seasons. While we may be putting Schoenberg to rest for a short while to bring out new programs for 2018-19, the wonderful feeling of process remains. One is not “done” with something when one is still growing. Finding things – like what we found in Schoenberg – sometimes gives an answer, but you can count on it to illumine more questions that make the asking more exciting, and the quest more full of energy. Cultivating these programs in these ways stretched us and made us better friends. This project made us hone in on a concept of sound, and an approach to gesture, that is like a living thing for us to take care of. This process made us think harder about our relationship to the city of Chicago, and the ways that we can be better community members. It probed us to reconsider what is worth hearing, and how we can be of greater service to music at large with what we perform and record (more on that later--shhh!). Most of all, I have the resounding sense that we found ourselves in part of a story that will continue to unravel across seasons to come.

With enormous thanks to Kiera Duffy for adding her voice to ours; Fred Sherry for showing us the way; David Fulmer for beautiful new notes; Berthold Hoeckner, Seth Brodsky, Jennifer Iverson, Jesse Rosenberg, Kate Desjardins, Sidney K. Robinson, and Brian Buckman for sharing their brilliance and talents with our audiences; Cliff Dwellers Club, the Lang House, and Hairpin Arts Center for helping to make our dreams come true, and Barbara Schubert at the University of Chicago, and Fawn Ring at the Art Institute of Chicago for making this season possible. Lastly, thank you to our amazing audiences, who went on this adventure with us and were there every step of the way!

– Clara Lyon

  (photo credit:  Marc Perlish )

(photo credit: Marc Perlish)

This Is What A Classical Concert Can Be

We created the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS series as a way to draw you further inside the music...something beyond you sitting politely with your hands folded in your lap. We've been astounded by the response to this interactive (and...shhhhh...don't tell anyone...FUN!) concert format, and the fact that it was launched with some, at times, seriously heady music (Schoenberg), we know it's a keeper.

Schoenberg's second quartet, fiercely delivered by world-class soprano Kiera Duffy, was complimented by a custom batch from Chicago brewery Illuminated Brew Works, inspired by an early 1900's recipe from Schoenberg's Vienna. The third found all of us in the great room of the Prairie-style Lang House, capping off our evening with a private tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Emil Bach House. And our season closer provided you with canvases, paints, and instruction in German Expressionism...with a nightcap of us performing three of your paintings as graphic scores.

It's been an amazing ride, and YOU KNOW that we are going to outdo ourselves next season.

Thank you for making this season so memorable, and we hope you'll be generous in your support of our 2018/19 season, THE WORLD AROUND US!

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: Sipping a Glass of 1908 Vienna

(photos by Marc Perlish)

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: Concert and Cocktails at the Lang House

(photos by Marc Perlish)

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: Paint Your Feelings!

(photos by Daniel Kullman)

You Painted Your Feelings!

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What a way to close the 2017/18 season! We are still riding high from the vibe at our final Close Encounters event, Paint Your Feelings!and are eager to fill you in soon on what we have in store for you next season. First and foremost, we were taken aback by how LOCKED IN you all were while painting. We'd finish a piece, and it would be silent...with you all feverishly brushing away at your creations. I guess we could have known that our audience is made up of a bunch of secretly-talented painters.

Special thanks to our art guru for the evening, Kate Desjardins, and to our friends from the Chicago Symphony's Overture Council who claimed so many seats that night. It was a blast, and you better believe we have plans to present more interactive shows like this one in the future. And a big high-five to the amazing photographer Daniel Kullman for these vivid pics! (make sure to credit him if you share!)

Finally, it was a singular pleasure for us to improvise pieces around your work. We can't think of a better way to cap off an evening making art together.

Till next time,
Clara, Maeve, Doyle & Russ

Chicago Classical Review: Spektral Quartet wraps Schoenberg series with metal virtuosity

"How many string quartets are there today that can make late Schoenberg seem like heavy metal?The Spektral Quartet wrapped its season-long survey of Arnold Schoenberg’s string quartets Sunday afternoon at the Art Institute. It’s a testament to the ensemble’s devoted local following that Fullerton Hall was quite respectably filled for a program that didn’t exactly cater to populist tastes.
A superb coda to the group’s ambitious and distinguished Schoenberg series. One looks forward to seeing what the Spektral Quartet will cook up for the 2018-19 season."


Read the entire article here


The Grand Finale to our 2017/18 Season!

Fireworks will be arriving early this summer...

This Sunday (5/20) marks the grand finale of our season with the final event of our Schoenberg cycle: In Search of Futures Past! We want to send you into the summer months in style, so here's what we have in store for you:


This Schoenberg series has been all about discovery, so we're lucky to have two fantastic speakers providing the color commentary at the end of the concert: Northwestern University professor of musicology Jesse Rosenberg, and the Art Institute's own Paulina Lopez

And how about this venue? You'll be enjoying Schoenberg's Quartet No. 4, Elliott Carter's Fragments, and the world premiere of David Fulmer's verse, verses under a Tiffany dome in one of the best sounding rooms in Chicago. It's fancy, but you can dress however you like.

Tiffany dome.jpg


Extra points for shaving your head like Schoenberg...



You do not need to purchase museum admission to attend the show, but getting your concert tickets in advance is a very good idea. You can grab those here. This is going to be one thrilling afternoon of music, and we can't wait to celebrate the close of our season with you!

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