University of Iowa Residency: This is a new one...


This September, we made our first of three visits to the University of Iowa this season for a brand-spankin’-new residency model that is more audacious than anything we’ve ever attempted. Rather than just the typical coaching+inspiring speech+concert format, visionary professor Elizabeth Oakes – and our own Clara Lyon – decided to dream big and have us shepherd a handful of chamber groups through the process of producing, promoting, and executing their own event.

We certainly wish we would have had an opportunity like this while in school.

You may have noticed that the photo at the top of this post is one of students showing off a tower made only of dry spaghetti, masking tape, and dental floss…all dubiously supporting a single marshmallow. We started the residency with the Marshmallow Challenge to prove a point: success is about trying and doing more than it is about fretting and planning.


Across the 2019/20 season, we will mentor these talented musicians through the rigorous – and rewarding – ins and outs of producing an interdisciplinary show: programming the right mix of music, building relationships with community partners and artistic collaborators, finding and working with a new venue, designing an audience experience that gives context and meaning to the music, creating a brand identity, and getting the public excited about showing up to that show.

So, all the stuff. It’s a testament to the U-Iowa students that as they became aware of the enormity of this project, they didn’t scramble for the exists.

Of course we did a bit of coaching as well, and the fun thing here is that, rather than just picking nits, we were able to uncover how pieces might relate to one another in the context of a larger event. Like — Schnittke is cool, but how does one situate a moody, hymn-like number to fit within, say, a salon-style experience? It isn’t just about playing in tune or with perfect balance. It’s about how the audience might navigate an evening of music, and get captivated to such an extent that they immediately ask where they can get tickets to the next one.


In the spirit of doing-rather-than-talking, we tried out a new concert format live for the Iowa City audience. “Something to Write Home About” asked the audience to write postcards (provided) based on prompts like “Write a letter to someone who needs encouragement,” or “Write a letter to your 15-year-old self.We then followed this epistolary theme through music of Brahms, Beethoven, Shulamit Ran, and LJ White, inviting audience members to read their postcards aloud if they were so moved.

The unique angle of the show was a teaching moment…for us as much as the students. Again, one can only know if one tries.


The rest of our days were spent introducing all of the myriad elements of the Three P’s": Programming, Promotion, and Production. At the end of the day, this residency essentially packs a decade worth of trying/failing/succeeding into one school year.

The enterprising U of Iowa students – and we – say Bring It On.

"It's Who We Are": An Interview with Nathalie Joachim

We're ecstatic to be performing with Nathalie Joachim on Friday, September 13th! We've been dreaming this up together for over a year, when Nathalie asked if we might be interested in performing excerpts from Fanm at her set on Resonant Bodies Festival in Chicago. Being long-time fans of Nathalie's, we were pretty bummed that we couldn't do the gig, but it set us on a course: we started thinking immediately about how we could work together, and perhaps even support her work on this extraordinary project in an even more substantial way.

Clara sat down with her recently to go even deeper behind the scenes…

photo: Josué Azor

photo: Josué Azor

Clara Lyon: Where does the story of Fanm d’Ayiti begin?

Nathalie Joachim: My maternal grandmother passed away in September of 2015. She was a really important voice in my life and losing her had me thinking about her voice, and also what female voices in Haiti have meant to me, historically. 

One day after she had passed, I was having a casual conversation with my parents, and it was weird: I was thinking about these voices and how they are such a part of who I am, but also that – except for Emeline Michel – I couldn’t actually name any other female Haitian artists. So my parents and I started talking about which female artists they could remember. I still actually have the handwritten list from that evening, and there were really only a dozen names on it.

CL: When did this initial curiosity transform into a commission?

NJ: A few months later I received an inquiry from Kate Nordstrum, who curates the Liquid Music series. I sent her my best, most curated list of projects and at the very, very bottom of the email, I added something like, “You know, I’ve also been thinking of doing this project centered around women of Haiti, but I’m not really sure what I would do yet.” Much to my surprise, this is the one she was really most curious about.

Thanks to Kate, this was the first time that I was given the space and support to have a real “research phase.” There wasn’t a note written down for a very long time.

Now, I am trying to embed this kind of time and space into my practice. I feel that being classically trained, you are pushed into this forum of carving something up, sculpting what is supposed to be there. This project turned my entire practice on its head: instead of forcing a form or shape upon something, I just allowed it to become what it needed to be, to receive all of the things that were coming, and to be open enough to receive them.

CL: I was just thinking about how you described to Spektral what a musical person your grandmother was, and how she really is responsible in some ways for your love of music and love of musical collaboration. Do you know how your grandmother became such a musical person?

NJ: The lineage of passing on music in Haiti is really organic. The passing on and sharing of music is not a special thing that happens, it is really an essential thing that happens. For my family, it is one of the ways we share time together.

It would be much more strange if my grandmother didn’t have a love or attachment to music. Because it would mean that she was the link in the chain of musicality in my family that was broken, or that she chose to not participate in it. It’s not a unique thing. It’s just who we are.

CL: When I went to Haiti a few years ago for a teaching artist residency, something I encountered with many of the people I met and the folks I collaborated with was this incredible generosity with sharing their artistic traditions, and a deeply rooted sense of pride in Haitian art as a real cultural treasure. I wonder if this resonates with your experience of Haiti, and what role you feel that art plays in Haitian culture. 

NJ: Absolutely, absolutely. Let’s just start off by saying that pride is a sort of quintessential Haitian characteristic. We are a very proud people, for good reason, I think, and the arts are really valued in a beautiful way. There are entire regions and cities that are known specifically for their art-making, and it is a very big part of our cultural history. 

That is also why, to be honest, that I was in this place of pulling out my hair to figure out what to do about the cover artwork. It’s a really great example of what you are talking about: there is a form of Haitian painting, and also wood-carving style, that you probably saw a lot of when you were there. Very often, Haitian women are depicted at work in different ways. I don’t really know the origins of this style-I’d like to know more about it-I just know that it was etched into my brain because it is in every Haitian household, and every Haitian establishment. When I think of artwork in Haiti that is the thing that comes to my mind because it is just so prevalent-we had it in my household growing up, and my Mom is a visual artist too, so we had some of her work as well. Definitely that side of things too: personal expression-whether through song, or visual art, writing, or storytelling, is a huge part of Haitian culture. 

I’m just so pleased at everyone’s at people’s reactions to the cover art because I wanted to work with Erin K. Robinson. She herself has such a history in her work that is featured around the black female form, both women and girls. It is a very central part of her art-making, so that resonated with me right away. She wasn’t very familiar with Haitian artwork, so I sent her some examples that I had from my own travels, and took some pictures of what my family had on their walls, and she did such a gorgeous, modern interpretation of the work that I am so proud of. In so many ways the cover is also a reflection of the songs on the album, but I was also glad to bring in this lens of visual artwork and it’s celebration of Haitian women and their resilience. I just loved that! And Erin did such a wonderful job of honoring the tradition.

The idea of expressing all that is in you, in an artistic way, is something that is very common in Haiti. I think it’s related to why you hear women singing all the time as they work and go about their lives, because it is just in them to express themselves. I think that we view art as storytelling, and I’m proud to say that that is part of who we are. 

Haitian people are extremely artistic people. You find that even in the girls choir sample in “Alleluia.” It’s not a professional choir, it’s literally just the girls who live in town, some of whom are my little cousins. There is nothing special about what they are doing, they are just doing what they do, but they sound so beautiful.

CL: I’m curious about your compositional choices with Fanm d’Ayiti. You are such an accomplished flutist and composer employing a wide breadth of styles in your work, and at the time it must have felt like adapting and arranging these songs could have gone in many different directions. How did you make the decision to sing on this album?

NJ: I think the thing that drove me most in terms of expression had to do with two things. For one, there was my grandmother. I don’t think that I ever played flute for her. We always made music by using our voices. 

Also, the stories and the text behind these songs is so powerful. But it was definitely putting myself out on a limb. There was a very good chance that I was going to make a record and everyone would be like, “Why are you singing?”

CL: What do you hope the audience takes away from our Chicago premiere on Friday night

NJ: I hope that everybody experiences the deep sense of love and respect that I have for this ancestry, this lineage, and these women who have come before me. I hope that people will see that this is such a deep part of who I am. More than anything, I want to be able to honor these women by making this music.

art: Erin K. Robinson

art: Erin K. Robinson

Fanm d’Ayiti
Record Release Show

Friday, Sept 13
Black Ensemble Theater

"Let's Make Space": An Interview with LJ White

LJ White.jpeg

On August 14th, we kick off our 2019/20 season with our popular Once More, With Feeling! series, featuring two of our favorite artists: composer LJ White and the 1960’s cult favorites, The Shaggs. Our 2019/20 season is all about uncovering how much of a composer’s personal identity they chose – or not – to include in their writing, so Doyle got in touch with LJ (composer of Spektral fan favorite Zin zin zin zin) about how he aproached one of the most infamous tracks in all of rock history.

Doyle Armbrust: Hey LJ, I love Zin zin zin zin just as much today as I did when you first wrote it.

LJ White: Thanks!

DA: From what you state on your website, it seems like this open-arms approach to sound is still at the heart of what you are up to as a composer. Does it look any different these days than when you wrote Zin?

LJ: I wrote Zin over six years ago now, and I can explain it all better now, but I think the motivations are still the same. I like to examine and question genre barriers, and I do it through considering all of the elements of music under my control – pitches, rhythms, timbres, textures, phrasing, articulation, and on and on – independently of each other and with as open of a mind as possible. In Zin, for example, there are timbres that would fit in at Darmstadt, there are motivic and rhythmic elements from hip hop, there’s a way of thinking about vertical spacing that’s informed by spectral music, and there’s comedic timing in the structure and a rhetorical, onomatopoeic communicativeness of gesture that are reminiscent of opera buffa or cartoons.

There’s no reason all of those things can’t make sense together, if they work toward a singular purpose or feeling for the music, a singular idea that interests me. The reason I’m interested in breaking down these lines of genre, I think, is that as a queer trans person, I’ve had to continually make lots of small decisions in order to build a fitting identity outside of the big binary-gender categories that would have otherwise made those kinds of decisions (what to wear, how to speak, etc) automatically for me. And I like to try and build a world, modeled in music, where the full spectrum of decision making is open in all cases, where we all can, as much as possible, freely make decisions for ourselves.

DA: This season, we are aiming to have composers tell us what aspects of their identity they want front and center, rather than whatever the current narrative about them may be. If we were to write up a one-sentence bio for you in one of our programs, what would be the lede, as of this moment?

LJ: This is a really interesting question. Thanks for the thoughtfulness in striving to represent the composers you’re working with the way we want to be represented.

It seems like there’s two parts to it: 1) Tell us what aspects of your identity you want people to understand about you, or associate with you, and 2) What should your one-sentence bio be? In my case, a one-sentence bio wouldn’t encompass issues of identity directly. The first sentence of my bio (which, for composers, can end up being used as a “one-sentence bio,” and is something we agonize over) says that my music is “direct, focused, and socially relevant” and “assimilates a variety of influences.” This is what I think my work does, in a nutshell. However, identity issues are important to why my music has these priorities, as I’ve described. I want people to know that I’m transgender. My gender identity is something that has strongly informed my work, in tandem with other aspects of myself, and it probably it is a large part of the “current narrative” of me that is out there, cultivated by myself and others. I also care about LGBTQ+ visibility, so it’s important to me to be open. That said, my gender identity is definitely not the full picture, and probing my music would uncover a lot of other features based on an inseparable tangle of identity-based, interest-based, and personality-based traits, one which I don’t think can be summed up fairly in a sentence that would function as a composer bio.

All of this is to say, I guess, that you can feel free to tell audiences that I’m trans and that this informs my music, but let’s make space for this information to be an organic response to questions about why the music sounds the way it does and how I understand my work, along with any other relevant information that could pop up (like the amount of time I spent watching cartoons and MTV as a kid, my interest in language and communication and interpersonal dynamics, etc.)

DA: As a trans composer, that aspect of your identity is probably going to surface pretty often. Is that something you embrace, or is it challenging to automatically be compelled to be an advocate?

LJ: It’s complicated, but I do embrace it, and I hope I’m always an advocate. As I was alluding to, I think my gender identity is something that’s foundational to the way that I think of and write music, whether or not the music deals directly with LGBTQ+ issues – for all of us, our art comes from who we are – so I’ve gotten comfortable talking about it, on my own terms. And I often do want to engage those issues explicitly in music. I feel that there’s been a good balance: I’m getting to write those pieces close to as frequently as I want to, and I’m also getting a lot of opportunities to write pieces about other things.

When I write LGBTQ+-focused music, I tend to write it for friends and close colleagues in the contemporary classical world, who I know support me, and who I know think carefully about gender and other issues of identity for themselves. That way, we’re all connecting to the music with passion, and I don’t feel isolated or other-ized. There are so many important issues to grapple with right now, in 2019 – gender is just one of all of the things we’re collectively taking on. At times, I’ve turned down opportunities where that collaborative, world-improving, inclusive spirit seemed to be missing: interviews that felt tokenizing, or commissions that were too prescriptive and inauthentic to my experience, or situations where I wasn’t sure I trusted the presenting organization to get it right. But I’m thankful that an abundance of fruitful collaborations has made those experiences irrelevant, in my case.

DA: We chose you to re-imagine one of our favorite tunes, My Pal Foot Foot, because 1) We love your work, and 2) because we figured a tune this fringe would be right up your alley. Do you remember your reaction when you first heard the original track?

LJ: I was like, “This is bananas. And I need to listen to this whole album a lot.”

DA: One thing I find so compelling about this tune, and The Shaggs in general, is that they are unabashedly doing their own thing. I think the “other-ness” is what draws me in. Do you find yourself with any similar feelings of camaraderie with the music-making in this way?

LJ: I didn’t really experience it in this way, honestly. I think what was compelling about it for me was the improbable musical material and the seeming belief among the band members that they were “doing it right,” doing what musicians do – the dutiful rudiments in the drum part, the simultaneous earnestness and wackiness of the lyrics, etc. I geeked out on things like the really complex rhythmic and pitch material and amazingly weird harmonic and lyrical structure of the song, which coexist really interestingly with that dutiful vibe that I felt I was picking up on. To me, it felt more like a misguided attempt at conformity than a rebellion.

The connection for me might be in the ways that I’ve tried but spectacularly, cluelessly failed to conform to things like gender roles in the past. I’m not sure how to say this without being condescending towards the band, though.

DA: What was your lightbulb moment, when you were writing your cover?

LJ: I think it was figuring out how to do something original with this music without having it feel like I was just making fun of the Shaggs because they’re out of tune and out of time, etc. I had several false starts before I started to bring in a bigger variety of material and to, in a way, poke fun at all of it by juxtaposing it all with references to opposing styles and associations. This includes the references to my own previous music that are in the piece. I had to discover that the music needed more territory to cover in order to not take itself too seriously.

DA: You’re now a teacher of composition. Do you find yourself offering your students specific advice in terms of how much of themselves, personally, they should invite into their music?

LJ: I want my students to write really personal music, by learning how to control all of the musical elements at their disposal toward their chosen goals in a musical work, and also by being thoughtful about themselves and what’s important to them, so that they can infuse their music with their own aesthetic and extra-musical values. This doesn’t mean that they should all write explicitly confessional or identity-focused music if that isn’t what feels right – it’s really about the way of constructing music more than the music’s stated topic or purpose. I want them to make decisions in a way that’s individualized and thoughtful and connected to what they’ve been able to observe that they like or believe in or care about. I want them to think more deeply than conforming to any one style blindly, and to write music that no one else could write but them.

It’s something I put a lot of thought into.

Chicago Reader: Spektral Quartet’s new season takes deep dives in diverse directions

“Gossip Wolf is routinely bowled over by Chicago's Spektral Quartet—not only do these supreme string shredders totally rip it up, but they also chuck stereotypes about classical music right out the conservatory window! This month, Spektral fire up their 2019-2020 season, entitled "Totally Obsessed," which showcases a ludicrously wide range of creativity. On Wednesday, August 14, at Constellation, they perform a totally far-out piece from longtime collaborator LJ White that's based on the Shaggs' 1969 outre-rock classic "My Pal Foot Foot." On Friday, August 30, New Amsterdam Records drops the album Fanm d'Ayiti, where Spektral accompany Haitian American composer, flutist, and singer Nathalie Joachim in her suite of the same name; they play a release concert with Joachim (a member of Eighth Blackbird) at Black Ensemble Theater on Friday, September 13. On Thursday, November 14, they perform works by Shulamit Ran and Kotoka Suzuki as well as Enigma, a new commission from Anna Thorvaldsdottir, as part of their ongoing residency at the University of Chicago—and that's not even mentioning anything in 2020!”

Read the entire article here

TECHNE: Empowering women through music technology

Today is the final day of our fundraising drive. As you may have heard, we’re giving 10% of the money raised to a phenomenal organization: TECHNE.

So, what is TECHNE?

TECHNE is a national arts education organization with programming here in Chicago whose mission is to build inclusivity and close the gender gap within creative technology fields. Their primary programs introduce young women and girls to technology-focused art making, in context with musical improvisation, contemplative practice and social justice education.

The more we discover about this organization, the more impressed and inspired we are. So Doyle called up TECHNE co-founder Suzanne Thorpe to go deeper into what makes her initiative so extraordinary.

Doyle Armbrust: What was the genesis of TECHNE?

Suzanne Thorpe: Our origin story takes place at a show [TECHNE co-founder] Bonnie Jones was playing in Brooklyn about nine years ago. A mutual friend introduced us, and in that conversation we quickly divined our way to the question of why there are so few women in the creative improv scene. We talked about how we wished it was different and how we wished it had been different for us when we were younger.

Coincidentally, I had just won my first small grant to teach a workshop, and believing that two minds are often better than one, I invited Bonnie to join me. TECHNE grew out of that one conversation and that first tiny workshop.

DA: What you see as the primary barrier for girls and women getting into electronic music or creative improv

ST: I don’t think there’s a “primary” barrier. Part of it is the social narrative around where women and girls are allowed to have agency. There are huge numbers of educators and employers that have been trained to have this limiting point of view, and they are constantly reinforcing it, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Both Bonnie and I think there is a problem with the way that technology is taught. We’re not going into our workshops and just teaching the technology itself. We contextualize technologies in other activities like contemplative practice, musicking improvisation, craft making, and social justice education. We believe this moves the students to build their own relationships to the technology and then form their own narrative using that technology.

What we try to do is show that technology does not need to be separate from our lives – we can embed technology in the lives we already have.

DA: Do you see a parallel with efforts in the sciences or mathematics, to push back against that pervasive narrative of “girls don’t belong here,” or is there something unique to this musical approach?

ST: Musicking offers the ability to convey certain experiences and ideas while engaged with the technology. It offers the opportunity to engage with a different kind of knowing, and that type of knowing increases agency.

Suzanne guiding a young engineer

Suzanne guiding a young engineer

[Musicking] offers the opportunity to engage with a different kind of knowing, and that type of knowing increases agency.
— Suzanne Thorpe

DA: And I suppose once you’ve removed that particular barrier to entry, these young performer-composers then have the creative space to express about issues specific to women, if they choose to, in their music.

ST: But music isn’t just a form of expression, it is a way of knowing.

DA: Can you point to a moment when you saw the lightbulb flick on for the first time in one of your students

ST: Yes! Every participant, when they make their first contact mic. None of them arrive knowing what a contact mic is, but when they first plug it in and it works – they are so taken with their own accomplishment. In that moment they have made an imprint on themselves.

DA: When a young woman shows up at one of your workshops, how did they get there?

ST: You’re hitting on an important issue. Most women don’t intuit that this something they would enjoy. When we first started out, we collaborated with various arts organizations, and we’d maybe get four students to sign up for a workshop. So we decided to partner with organizations that already had their own students and were already working on issues of gender inequality in the realm of sound. So we started collaborating with Girls Rock camps around the country.

We’d pick a region of the country and for a month or so we’d go out for a month in the summer and hit as many Girls Rock camps as we could. By being mobile, we started reaching hundreds of girls. 

DA: Are there any other ways those of us inspired by your work can help TECHNE, in addition to making a tax-deductible donation?

ST: Specifically for our Chicago group, we are in need of soldering irons, soldering stations, breadboards, wire strippers, and wire cutters. But also, please help us spread the word!

What It Takes: Behind the Wallpaper

We are fundraising in support of our 2019/20 season, TOTALLY OBSESSED, and thought it would be illuminating to give you a sense of what it takes ($) to make these individual concerts happen. It may be unusual for a fundraising drive, and you already know that ticket sales don’t even come close to covering costs, but perhaps a little transparency will make the case for why those $5 or $20 or $1,000 donations are so vital.

This season we are rebooting one of our favorite projects, Alex Temple’s “Behind the Wallpaper” featuring internationally renowned art-pop vocalist Julia Holter.

The first tour for ‘Behind the Wallpaper’ in 2015  (poster by Justin Santora)

The first tour for ‘Behind the Wallpaper’ in 2015 (poster by Justin Santora)

Behind the Wallpaper tells the story of a person undergoing a mysterious transformation one night in a college science park – a moment that will alter her mundane life, but not necessarily in ways apparent to those around her. Here’s the kicker: the music slips between 19th-century romanticism, indie pop, Weimar cabaret, and Elizabethan music. It’s a gripping and often comically devious piece, but it’s also a glimpse inside the brilliantly divergent imagination and intellect of its author.

We’re presenting this concert at that haven for Chicago cinephiles: the Music Box Theater. Following our performance of Behind the Wallpaper, our co-producers the Chicago Film Society will present short films chosen in conjunction with Alex.

So what does it cost to bring you this unique evening of music and film, featuring an artist (venerable music review site) Pitchfork can’t get enough of?


…for just one concert on our Chicago season…and this is far from the most expensive show in 2019/20.

This is why your donation is so important. Thank you for taking the time to make projects like Alex Temple’s “Behind the Wallpaper” a reality. We literally couldn’t do it without you.

With gratitude,
Maeve & Clara & Doyle & Russ

Join Our Team – Create Extraordinary Experiences!

Dear curiosity seeker,

We know you love the arts, but what is it that inspires you to carve out a Saturday night, splurge for a babysitter, postpone a Netflix binge, or do battle with Chicago traffic?

Do you seek a much-needed escape into something sublime? Are you angling for a brain-spark that ignites your intellect – or maybe a euphoric escape – after a formidable work week? Perhaps you enjoy staying on top of the art world’s cutting-edge?

Painting to a live soundtrack at ‘Paint Your Feelings’ in 2018  (photo by Daniel Kullman)

Painting to a live soundtrack at ‘Paint Your Feelings’ in 2018 (photo by Daniel Kullman)


We’re here for you with more than a dozen events produced around the city every year. Today, we are asking you to support some of the most fun, stimulating and provocative programming in our beloved city of Chicago.

The nature walk portion of Tonia Ko’s “Plain, Air” at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (2018)  (photo by Daniel Kullman)

The nature walk portion of Tonia Ko’s “Plain, Air” at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (2018) (photo by Daniel Kullman)

Premiering Samuel Adam’s “Current” in the vault of the Stony Island Arts Bank at ‘The Modern Salon: South Side Edition’ in 2019  (photo by Daniel Kullman)

Premiering Samuel Adam’s “Current” in the vault of the Stony Island Arts Bank at ‘The Modern Salon: South Side Edition’ in 2019 (photo by Daniel Kullman)


We’ve had some big wins this year, from our second GRAMMY nomination, to our appearance on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series, to our first successful National Endowment for the Arts grant. But what’s most exciting to us is the community of curious, adventurous music lovers (that’s you!) we are building here in Chicago.

Miguel Zenón & Spektral at NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concerts’

Miguel Zenón & Spektral at NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concerts’


Next season we’ll focus on presenting voices that are more often than not underrepresented on classical stages, filling a void left by the legacy musical institutions in this city. And we’ll make space for these artists to tell us their stories - to share their experiences and obsessions, and what inspires them to create the music that’s meaningful to them.

(left to right) Alex Temple, Julia Holter, Nathalie Joachim, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Shulamit Ran, Lisa Coons

(left to right) Alex Temple, Julia Holter, Nathalie Joachim, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Shulamit Ran, Lisa Coons

We’re partnering with the Adler Planetarium – and lighting up your inner science nerd – for a new commission from composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir featuring 360-degree video art. We’re releasing a new album with flutist/composer/vocalist Nathalie Joachim that pays tribute to the incredible female singers of her native Haiti. We’re commissioning a new work by Chicago luminary Bernard Rands, along with 9 world premieres by Chicago Composers’ Consortium members, each inspired by Bernard’s music. We’re bringing you unparalleled, immersive experiences through our ongoing Close Encounters and Once More, With Feeling! series, the latter featuring live conversations with Shulamit Ran, Alex Temple, and LJ White.

None of this will be possible without your generosity, which we depend on to dream up, develop, and produce these memorable events, so please don’t just set this letter aside. Because we are a small, nimble organization, whatever amount you are able to give today goes directly into producing the music. Whether it’s $20 or $2,000, your gift makes the remarkable a reality.


But wait….there’s more! This year we’re paying it forward by donating a full 10% of funds raised during this campaign to a stand-out organization that we think is doing critical work. TECHNE is a national arts education organization with programming here in Chicago whose mission is to build inclusivity and close the gender gap within creative technology fields. Their primary programs introduce young women and girls to technology-focused art making, in context with musical improvisation, contemplative practice and social justice education.

Phenomenal, right? Your gift today will have a double impact, moving the needle on inclusivity and widening the range of experiences represented on stages across the country. Please consider making your donation today.

With gratitude,

Clara & Maeve & Doyle & Russ

PS - We welcome donations by check, on our website at, or on our Facebook page. Spektral Quartet NFP is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, and all donations are deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law.

Chicago Classical Review: Trapani’s musical islands are joined in Spektral Quartet program

“The audience went island-hopping around the world with the Spektral Quartet Saturday night, at the University of Chicago’s International House.

The event was a concert titled “Enchanted Islands: A Travelogue.” The chamber group performed Books I and II of Isolario: Book of Known Islands—a musical atlas of sorts composed by Christopher Trapani—with Book II receiving its world premiere. 

This was preceded by Schubert’s “Rosamunde” quartet. (Rosamunde is set on Cyprus, you see.) 

The Schubert performance was surprisingly light-footed even in the darkest passages. In the opening bars Clara Lyon (playing first violin) clipped the little phrases of the main theme short, exaggerating the rests between them. Then, when the theme returned in the major, Lyon lengthened the final notes, as if the melody had relaxed a bit—a quirky yet effective interpretive touch…”

“But Trapani is a superb craftsman. He wove together the analog and the electronic so seamlessly that it was hard to tell which sounds were coming from the quartet on stage, and which from the speakers.

This integration is a testament not only to Trapani’s skill in melding the two media, but also to Spektral’s precision of playing. “Kalymnos” from Book I included the din of dynamite blasts from an Easter celebration, with Spektral having to land their notes together with the explosions. “Baracoa” from Book II featured a recording of a mechanical organ, with which the quartet had to remain in tightly coordinated dialogue…”

Read the entire review here

Leaving something in the walls, in the floors: The Modern Salon

Leaving something in the walls, in the floors: The Modern Salon

On March 23rd, 2019, we curated The Modern Salon: South Side Edition at the Stony Island Arts Bank. More importantly, we were just one element within of a night of inspiring and provocative art-making alongside creatives from across Chicago.

It was all just so damn REAL. The performers and the audience talked perception, and blind spots, and rigor, and race, and Chicago.

We Made Music – You Made Mosaics!

We Made Music – You Made Mosaics!

So, as it turns out, it’s WAY fun to have our audiences making art right alongside us! We hit the jackpot by partnering with the Chicago Mosaic School for our most recent Close Encounters event – titled Facets of Earth & Sound – and if the participant response was any indication, this was one of the most inspiring and entertaining Chicago-area classical music events of the year.