I Know What [Spektral] Did Last Summer (2017)

After some inspiring travels earlier in the summer, we went our separate ways for some much-deserved time off in August: Maeve to Maine, Clara to Pennsylvania/Virginia/Kansas, Doyle to South Dakota/Ohio, and Russ to Washington State.

We're pleased to report that none of us went blind while staring at the solar eclipse. 

We thought we'd share some SFW photo highlights with you as we dig into our rep for the current season, which we'll be announcing later this month. It's a DOOZY, y'all...


MAEVE


CLARA


DOYLE


RUSS

Spektral's 2017 Summer Reading List!

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Just in the nick of time, it's our SUMMER READING LIST! This year we expanded our reach (including composers, actors, musicians, fans, and board members) and narrowed our entries (let's be honest, last year's was out of control) to ten top-shelf recommenders.

Our request for this list is: "Share one book that you love or that you think others will love, and 2-3 sentences why."

As you'll see, some of these brilliant folks are quite bad at counting. As you'll also see, the current state of affairs in our country has edged out the breezy beach reads for some chewy and thought-provoking editions. Leaked episodes of Game of Thrones has you covered on the escapism front, and our friends are on top of the blown-your-brain-wide-open one.

Thank you to Marcos Balter, Jill DeGroot, Daniel Felsenfeld, Dai Fujikura, William Riley Leitch, Nicholas Photinos, Fred Sherry, James Smith, Alex Temple, and Michael Patrick Thornton for the phenomenal list...and happy reading to all of you!


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MARCOS BALTER (composer)

I'm reading Elizabeth Strout's ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, which is a collection of short stories. I really like how she sees beauty in the mundane. Bonus: if you've read her MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, one of the short stories in this book involves a school janitor who gives some new insights on the dysfunctional Bartons.

Find it at your local independent bookstore
-or-
Buy it on Amazon


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JILL DEGROOT (Noise Bias founder / Cacophony Magazine editor / flutist)

I would like to recommend LIVING A FEMINIST LIFE by Sara Ahmed. In it, Ahmed states "Feminism is homework." Addressing the ways in which we distance ourselves from the society we critique, this visionary take on feminist theory serves as an illuminating, and often painful, look in the mirror. Using feminist of color scholarship as the foundation, Sara Ahmed brilliantly offers solutions that can help up rise to the challenge of living a feminist life. 

Find it at your local independent bookstore
-or-
Buy it on Amazon


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DANIEL FELSENFELD (composer)

This summer, like many, I have been trying to understand the (at best) fractious nature of our country.  So my reading has been accordingly scaled.  

Howard Jacobson’s PUSSY: A fantasia on our POTUS, but cast as if written by a British contemporary Italo Calvino.  Peculiar, and terrifying.  And funny. 

Woodward and Bernstein’s THE FINAL DAYS and Elizabeth Drew’s WASHINGTON JOURNAL: In a way reading about Watergate is giving me a ray of hope.  Both of these books detail how that quaintly corrupt (by comparison) administration toppled in on itself.  It beats reading Victor Klemperer’s AND I SHALL NOW BEAR WITNESS (which is relevant and chilling and brilliant), because at least Nixon had the good sense not to murder a massive chunk of the population due to father issues. Also Mad Magazine’s MAD ABOUT TRUMP brings the funny, if any of this were actually funny.  

Wilhelm Reich’s THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM is a must-read if you are at all curious how all of this works—as necessary (and far weirder) than Hannah Arendt’s THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM.  Both outline grand trends that allow a nation to no longer be sovereign.  

Jane Meyer’s DARK MONEY, Jaques Barzun’s THE CULTURE WE DESERVE, and Richard Hofstadter’s THE PARANOID STYLE IN AMERICAN POLITICS trace the lineage—the long and deliberate lineage—of all that is coming down our international pike, laying out how surprisingly un-sudden any of this is. 

But most deliberately, I am currently midway through two very important pieces of literature: William Gaddis’ JR and Gore Vidal’s seven-volume NARRATIVES OF EMPIRE sequence. The former explains the ill-gotten financial gains that drive the political climate, and the latter is a sprawling cri de couer for the American Experiment.


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DAI FUJIKURA (composer)

My recommendation is 10% HUMAN: HOW YOUR BODY'S MICROBES HOLD THE KEY TO HEALTH AND HAPPINESS. I have been obsessed with this topic, bacterias, inside us, on us, and surround us, and how we are all let to live by them. I have even written a new orchestral work based on this called Glorious Clouds. The sense of we are all sharing the planet, humans are not controlling anything, the bacteria are!

Find it at your local independent bookstore
-or-
Buy it on Amazon


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WILLIAM RILEY LEATCH (trombonist)

My pick is SEX CRIMINALS by Matt Fraction (author) and Chip Zdarsky (artist). I read comics and one of the best series being published AT THIS VERY MOMENT is Sex Criminals. The premise is (parents, you may want to turn the dial for the next few minutes) two people can stop time when they orgasm. This title does incredibly well to normalize taboos surrounding sexuality and identity. Each issue features a long column of letters at the end from a vibrant community that is heartwarmingly inclusive and aware.

Find it at your local independent bookstore
-or-
Buy it on Amazon


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NICHOLAS PHOTINOS (Eighth Blackbird cellist and solo artist)

I'd be happy to recommend James Baldwin's THE FIRE NEXT TIME. Books sometimes present themselves to me. When I was 17, I was taking a walk with my sister in San Francisco, talking about never having read Jack Kerouac, and came across On the Road in the gutter. Maybe that only happens in SF. This was similar: a friend was staying at my place and had just finished this, and I had never read Baldwin. It's a quick read, honestly written, with so much beauty and wisdom in the face of such immense pain, as palpable in 1963 as it is today. Like this famous passage: "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."

Find it at your local independent bookstore
-or-
Buy it on Amazon


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FRED SHERRY (Juilliard School/Mannes College of Music/Manhattan School of Music cello faculty / violinist)

My first recommendation is ON FOOD AND COOKING: THE SCIENCE AND LORE OF THE KITCHEN by Harold McGee (revised edition). If you are planning to cook exotic dishes this summer, Harold McGee will tell you not how to do it, but why to do it, and why it tastes the way it does. This book includes everything from chemical analysis to historical anecdotes about food and cooking. Buon appetito. Then, if you haven’t read RAMEAU’S NEPHEW by Diderot, you must because it is funny and informative.

Find it at your local independent bookstore
-or-
Buy it on Amazon


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JAMES SMITH (Attorney, Spektral board of directors)

Skip your next planned read of a best-selling novel and read a book guaranteed to be more compelling; reserve a spot on the edge of your seat, which is where you will be through every page of JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: THE LEARNED MUSICIAN by Christoph Wolf, which illuminates the family life and career journey of one of western civilization’s true giants. This book has nearly everything. Michael Jordan was cut from his school’s basketball team for not having a foreseeable future in the game; well, Bach was cut as the church organist and conductor for lack of true musical potential. LOL! Yankees or Red Sox is no rivalry at all; look instead to the titanic contest as to the great organist of the age – Bach or Handel. Want to marvel at a workaholic who could love, kick out twenty children he truly loved and dotingly nurtured while holding down four or five jobs? This is the book. Some indication of the book’s quality: Wolf’s storytelling here was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize the year it hit the book stores.

Find it at your local independent bookstore
-or-
Buy it on Amazon


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ALEX TEMPLE (composer)

My recommendation is PSCHO NYMPH EXILE by Porpentine Heartscape. A beautiful, surreal, disturbing, touching story of queer trans love in a futuristic dystopia full of magical girls and giant monster battles. Sex, violence, drugs, kink, body horror, trauma, romance and exploitation, all conveyed through cryptic mini-chapters, heavy with neologisms and footnotes.

Buy directly from Arcadia Missa


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MICHAEL PATRICK THORNTON (The Gift Theatre co-founder & artistic director / actor)

Joseph Campbell said you can tell a culture is in trouble when you see it scrambling to re-tell itself its shared myths; I find it interesting that across TV and film, we're seeing a return to the American master of horror, Stephen King. So, in order to obviously save the world, during our summer of fear, I re-read Stephen King's IT, read his MR. MERCEDES, and am currently reading 11/22/63. Other astounding recent reads: Colson Whitehead's THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, James Barrat's OUR FINAL INVENTION, Gregorie Chamayou's A THEORY OF THE DRONE. In the queue: Lauren Groff's FATES & FURIES, Ernest Cline's READY PLAYER ONE, and Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's WAKING LIONS.

Sarah Forbes Orwig joins Spektral's Board of Directors

Photo Credit: Elliot Mandel

Photo Credit: Elliot Mandel

Spektral Quartet NFP's Board of Directors is pleased to welcome Sarah Forbes Orwig as its newest member!  Sarah has long been a Spektral fan and booster, and we feel fortunate to have her joining our team.  

Sarah grew up in Saint Louis, Missouri, and has lived in Chicago since 1999 with her husband, Clark Costen. After working as an editor for publications such as Women’s Wear Daily, W Magazine, and Reader’s Digest, she took a career break to earn a Ph.D. from Boston University, where she studied sociology with Peter L. Berger and was a fellow of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture. She then returned to the publishing world, serving as the social sciences editor for Encyclopaedia Britannica for eight years before joining the American Bar Association as an executive editor for book publishing. In 2014, she joined the board of Rush Hour Concerts and continues as a board member for the new International Music Foundation.

She is also involved with an archive digitization program for the American Youth Foundation, serves as a deacon for Fourth Presbyterian Church, helped launch a summer concert series for Washington Square Park, and organized a program on gun violence for the ABA’s staff diversity council. 

Writing about why she is eager to join our board, Sarah says: "I admire Spektral’s unique brand of verve, wit, and disciplined, artful expression. The combination promises to touch both new and established audiences who seek excellence in classical and new music."

In their free time, she and Clark spend time on their sailboat, and we knew she was our kind of people when she shared this video of a recent camera mishap out on the water, titled The Two Stooges

DOVETAIL SERIES Photo Gallery - Inaugural Concert with Maggie Brown

We are still abuzz from the launch of our new DOVETAIL SERIES with vocalist Maggie Brown and composer/keyboardist Calvin Brunson! Our goal was to create a musical exchange–one in which we are learning as much as we are presenting–and we couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic crowd, or beautiful space.

Fortunately, we have talented friends, and photographer Marc Perlish was on hand to capture the evening. Marc is one of those artists that is just as skillful in a live setting as one in which he has control over the elements, and in this case, he transformed a particularly dusky lighting situation into these bright, energetic photos you see below. 

We have three DOVETAIL shows coming up this season, so keep an eye out for details. This project has us all fired up, and we can't wait to tell you who we're collaborating with this year!

2017 Chamber Music Intensive – Photo Gallery

This July, we presented our third-annual Chamber Music Intensive in partnership with the University of Chicago's Department of Music and the Logan Center for the Arts–and it feels like we're seriously hitting our stride. The four-day festival is geared toward college-age and amateur string players and pianists, and this year our theme was The Romantics. Amidst all the Brahms and Borodin and Dvořák, we were treated to masterclasses and an on-stage interview with Guarneri Quartet first violinist Arnold Steinhardt, a dynamic presentation on the music-centric literature of the era from Beyond the Score founder Gerard McBurney, a field trip to hear the Grant Park Symphony...and an epic rainstorm for the ages.

We can't wait for next year, and if you have photos you'd like to contribute to the CMI gallery below, shoot them over to doyle@spektralquartet.com. See you next summer!

Chamber Music America awards commissioning grant to Spektral and Composer Tonia Ko

Tonia Ko

Tonia Ko

We want to say a big thank you to Chamber Music America for funding a new work by composer Tonia Ko for our 2018/19 season! We've been looking for an opportunity to work with Tonia, whose imaginative music has been on our radar for some time, and the 18/19 season offers the perfect fit.

But we can't tell you about that season just yet...

What we can tell you is that we will have a season-long theme, one that has us all deliriously excited, and that it is our largest-scale project to-date. With CMA's generous support, a key element of this dream is now firmly in place.

We can also tell you that Tonia's piece, titled "Plain, Air," will be a 30-minute work that investigates the relationship between musical sounds and those of the natural environment.

If you are new to Tonia, we should share with you that her music tends to color outside the lines of artistic discipline, with a deep affinity for the visual arts. She studied at the Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, and Cornell University, and has been commissioned by heavy-hitters like Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center as well as the Tanglewood, Aspen, and Santa Fe music festivals.

One of our favorite things about Tonia is that she uses bubble wrap as a sound texture in some of her work. Does this sound like a match made in heaven or what?

 

DOVETAIL SERIES: An Unexpected Audience Response

photo credit: Justin Fennert

photo credit: Justin Fennert

We were still riding high from the audience turnout and enthusiasm at our DOVETAIL SERIES launch this past Saturday when we received a ping via Twitter. Justin Fennert, a creative marketer, community builder, and photographer based in Chicago, happened to be visiting the Stony Island Arts Bank the day of our performance and made the snap decision to stick around for the show. 

Even more unexpectedly, Justin decided to capture and blog about his reactions to our collaboration. We LOVE it when listeners decide to dive a little deeper and write down their thoughts. For us, it's tangible evidence that the singular relationship that we build with an audience at each concert hasn't evaporated once we all head through the doors and out onto the street. 

Here's one of our favorite excerpts:

"What I loved about this event was the fact that you could see vividly the impact fearless collaboration could have on a group of people. Not only did it bring two different styles of music together on one stage, it also brought two communities together in one room. You can learn a lot by looking at how these two groups worked together. Both from drastically different backgrounds who used instruments not often seen together on the same stage to communicate those stories. As expected, both were great independently, but destroyed expectations in coming together creating a piece that was both unified and powerful."

You can read Justin's entire post over at his website, oh, and you are forever and always invited to send us your reflections, poetic or otherwise, to hello@spektralquartet.com.

Inside the 'Dovetail Series': Oscar Brown, Jr.

So. We're launching a new series in partnership with Theaster Gates's Rebuild Foundation, titled The Dovetail Series, and our first collaboration is with vocalist/spoken-word artist Maggie Brown. The thing about Ms. Brown is that in addition to her own creative efforts, she has become a champion for the legacy of her father–the brilliant Chicago songwriter/poet/activist Oscar Brown, Jr. If this is a new name for you, you're not alone. Oscar Brown, Jr. was fiercely protective of his creative freedom and profoundly adverse to the commercialization of music, so despite having penned lyrics for the likes of Miles Davis and Max Roach, drawing Muhammed Ali to star in one of his theatrical productions on Broadway, running for a seat in the Illinois state legislature, and releasing a critically-acclaimed debut album–he passed away in 2005 with far less recognition than he deserved.

We thought we'd take a moment, as we gear up for our show with Maggie this Sunday (which you can attend for FREE if you RSVP here) by immersing you in her father's work, which will feature prominently during the performance. Collaborating with Maggie has been everything we'd hoped the Dovetail Series would be–inspirational, educational, thought-provoking, and fun (she will break into song and dance with little provocation in our meetings)–and we hope our fledgeling effort will help expose the brilliant songwriting and beautiful (and devastating) poetry of Oscar Brown, Jr. to a wider array of listeners. Dig in!


Oscar Brown Jr.'s brilliant debut album, 'Sin & Soul'

 

One of the first jazz records to engage with the Civil Rights movement: Max Roach's 'We Insist!' (with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr.)

 

A total stunner: Oscar Brown, Jr. on Def Poetry performing his 'I Apologize'

 

One of the most jaw-dropping stories from Oscar Brown, Jr.'s career: creating the show 'Opportunity Please Knock' for one of Chicago's most feared gangs, the Blackstone Rangers

 

And to bring it full-circle: a touching exchange between Maggie and Oscar as she honors her father's artistry

Spektral 2016/17 Season Photo Gallery!

We've had an incredible season–Grammys, Feldman, Rome, et al–and we thought we'd pull some photos off our glowing rectangles to share with you. 

For 2017/18, we're launching the ONCE MORE–WITH FEELING! series at Constellation, and we need your support to make it happen. For it, we'll fly in a composer, perform a piece from their catalog at least twice, and in the middle discuss what inspired its creation, and how it works. This series was born out of feedback from our audiences–that if only they could hear a new piece more than once, they'd be able to digest and appreciate it more–and this new series is our answer. We are seeking to raise $3,000 by the end of this week in order to fly Wadada Leo Smith, Eliza Brown, Lisa Coons, and LJ White to town next season. Thank you so much for considering a donation to get this project launched!

 

Chicago Tribune: Spektral throws a new-music disco party

Chicago Tribune: Spektral throws a new-music disco party

The Spektral Quartet likes to put on performances that are not so much concerts as high-energy thrill rides for musically inquisitive listeners. The operative question behind all of them is: What makes a contemporary classical string quartet contemporary? The answers are many and varied, designed to provoke as often as delight.

So it was over the weekend at Constellation, where the virtuosic Chicago foursome presented a program of new and cutting-edge contemporary pieces, including world premieres by Charlie Sdraulic and Andrew McManus. The club was packed with Spektral groupies who were given instruction in how to dance the hustle following the performance.