”Miguel Zenon featuring Spektral Quartet: “Yo Soy La Tradicion” (Miel Music). In 2016, alto saxophonist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Zenon partnered with Chicago’s enterprising Spektral Quartet for the world premiere of his suite “Yo Soy La Tradicion” (“I Am Tradition”). Commissioned by the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, the piece wove the rhythms, cadences and song structures of Zenon’s native Puerto Rico into a sprawling work that intertwined classical, jazz, blues and folkloric vocabularies. By turns complex and accessible, historic and contemporary, “Yo Soy La Tradicion” represents a major contribution from composer Zenon, in an uncommonly sensitive collaboration with the Spektrals.”
On November 3rd, we met over fifty music fans at 6:30am (!!!) at the Berger Park Cultural Center to usher in the sunrise together.
We lucked out with idyllic weather, and the crowd was open-eared and surprisingly bright-eyed given the hour. We began with a group vocal meditation, led by our friend Charmaine Lee, performed two movements of the Ravel quartet, and then shifted into an improvisation to greet the rising sun.
First off, every concert should begin with a vocal meditation. It’s hard to put words to how this collective experience of singing/humming together focused the energy of the room, but there was universal agreement that it was a unique, elevating moment.
And then there’s the way the emerging sunlight illuminated faces and instruments around the room in a bright orange glow. It certainly heightened the experience of playing Ravel’s sumptuous harmonies…
Most meaningful, though, was the sense of togetherness that it inspired. The conversations and enthusiastic responses we enjoyed as we walked out to the Lake Michigan shoreline were unlike any we can remember since we became a quartet.
This was an experience we will never forget….
“Five years ago, the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón was performing with his quartet at a club in Chicago when he was contacted by Julien Labro, a French accordionist based in Canada. Labro was in town making a record with Spektral, a Chicago-based string quartet that specialises in contemporary music. He had arranged a piece by Zenón, a racing tune called ‘El Club de la Serpiente’, for the session, and wanted to know if he would have any interest in recording it with them. Zenón went to the studio, and instantly clicked with the quartet. ‘The guys from Spektral were really on top of the music, which made the session very fun and easy,’ he told me. (‘El Club de la Serpiente’ appeared on Labro’s 2014 album From This Point Forward.) When the Hyde Park Jazz Festival commissioned Zenón to write a work for local musicians, ‘naturally I thought of Spektral.’
Before I say anything more about this breathtaking album, let me emphasise what it is not: jazz-with-strings, the archetypal middle-brow, mid-20th-century genre in which a jazz soloist improvises over an orchestral backdrop that would otherwise be of scant musical interest. No insult intended: I rather like jazz-with-strings, especially if the soloist is Charlie Parker. But the strings in jazz-with-strings seldom did more than create a lush ambience – an aspirational signifier of class and refinement at the time, now a quaint signifier of the time and its aspirations.”
This Friday, October 5th, we bring you Tonia Ko’s Plain, Air…a riveting encounter with the Lake Michigan shoreline ecology that received its world premiere just three weeks ago at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.
We’ve fallen head-over-heels for this string-quartet-and-electronics piece, and to this day, we’re fielding exuberant emails and text messages from concertgoers, eager to tell us about their personal reverberations following this unique experience.
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.
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.
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.
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 interns Doyle Armbrust and Maeve Feinberg)