The Way We Were...

I suppose returning to Eliza Brown’s String Quartet No. 1 is getting me all nostalgic. 

Remember that, at the time we first performed this piece, less than a year had elapsed since we were just a weirdo bro-down that bought sixers of beer and sightread quartets. We titled the concert Break Right Through That Line as a nod to our (well, 3 out of 4 of us, anyway) alma mater’s fight song, and we even had a cake made with the concert poster edibly printed on the fondant.


It was Russ’s final recital before collecting his DMA at NU–and this bears mentioning–one of the faculty members on his committee didn’t want to pass him because it was a concert featuring…SHOCK! HORROR!…all contemporary music and he wasn’t playing solo. His name wasn’t Capt. Cranky Pants, but it might as well have been. Way to promote initiative and entrepreneurship, Captain!

This has to go down as one of the only DMA recitals at Northwestern that filled a hall, and it firmed up our commitment to champion the music of Chicago composers. And hey, the performance really isn’t half-bad, either!

It’s just a little vertigo-inducing to imagine how much we’ve changed since that day in 2011. There are the obvious elements, like bringing on two incredible new violinists, not hearing crickets each time we apply for a grant, and getting our ensemble name spelled correctly in emails (92%?). And then there are the perhaps less obvious ones. Like the trust and wordless communication that is only earned from years of being on stage together. That sounds kind of grand, but I just mean that the six years since that performance have added up to something. 

So of course the way that we play Eliza’s first quartet has changed since then. I recall that when we recorded it for our debut album, Chambers, Russ was riding a pony of playing-harmonics-sans-extraneous-noise deep into the sunset…which made me want to scream that, yeah, well, his shoes did not compliment his belt so well…and now this sort of picking nits is standard, and encouraged. We would apply the same rigor to this generation of music as the Mozart quartet we were playing at the time. Oooh boy…I am not posting that Dissonance video.

We have so much more to tell you–and of course, so does Eliza–and this is the reason we created the Once More, With Feeling! series at Constellation. There’s always more to the story than what you hear in a performance, and our aim is to take you deep inside a single piece of music. Not just to give you the backstory, but to show it to you from the inside, out. We considered titling the series Inside Out during an early brainstorming session, but Disney shut it down via a text message from their Future Crimes division.

- Doyle


featuring composer Eliza Brown

Friday, Dec 1
Tickets here


Classical Voice of North Carolina: Spektral Quartet Transforms Esoteric Repertoire to Vibrant Performance

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"There are many string quartets seeking to reinvent the ensemble as the relatable, hipster cousin of stuffy chamber music. The approach of playing pubs, flashmobs, and videogame tournaments certainly makes chamber music more accessible by meeting audiences where they are, but sometimes by sacrificing more adventurous music. On the other hand, some old guard ensembles seem to be stuck in a traditional approach, expecting the audience to make all of the effort to understand and contextualize the repertoire.
Spektral Quartet takes the best of both worlds; the ensemble performs challenging works in a way that makes them intense, personal, and accessible. In a performance sponsored by Carolina Performing Arts, this ensemble married the emotional intensity and energy of the modern approach with the traditional expectation that the listener is equally responsible for investing intellectually in their own artistic experience. Spektral Quartet's marketing is quirky, their interpretations deeply felt, their repertoire challenging (for both performers and audience), and their program notes erudite and thorough. The overall effect was a heady brew that teased the brain and wrenched the heart."

Read the entire review here

Chicago Classical Review: Spektral Quartet packs the house for Schoenberg

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"The beauty of Spektral Quartet’s impassioned performance was that it served both sides of Schoenberg’s music so well. As led by the group’s superb first violinist Clara Lyon–who also wrote the perceptive program notes–the players were fully in synch with the rhapsodic lyrical flights.  
Yet the musicians also conveyed the sense that the breakdown of tonality is right around the corner—in the fin de siecle decadence of the waltz fragment played by Lyon and Armbrust about ten minutes in; the buzzing high harmonics that seem to anticipate Ligeti; and the unsettled repose of the penultimate Langsame Viertel section.
Spektral Quartet gave the belated Chicago premiere of Morton Feldman’s six-hour String Quartet No. 2 last March, so Schoenberg’s unbroken three-quarter-hour work is a comparative bagatelle.
Still, this is an epic, hugely challenging score and Spektral put it across with bristling fire and conviction. The communicative playing kept the music moving forward, naturally leading one on to the next episode. The final section was joyous in its bumptious high spirits, and, with an artful deceleration, they conveyed the spare, quiet solace of the coda, beautifully played by all.
The Spektral musicians were equally eloquent advocates for Brahms’ Quartet in C minor on the first half."

Read the entire review here

Holy Cow! We Made a Record with Miguel Zenón: A Photo Blog

This weekend, we recorded a new album with one of our jazz heroes, Miguel Zenón. Yo Soy La Tradición is a concert-length work inspired by the folk traditions of Miguel's native Puerto Rico, and it's a piece we've fallen head-over-heels for. We think you're really going to love this album when it drops in early 2018.

Because of the timing, we spent a good amount of our hang talking about the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, which is heartbreaking. We hope you'll consider joining us in contributing to the relief effort. Here is one organization that may not yet be on your radar.

Also, we clearly can't be trusted to be around all this gear (see below)...

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...





Spektral's 2017 Summer Reading List!


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!


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
Buy it on Amazon


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
Buy it on Amazon



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.


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
Buy it on Amazon



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
Buy it on Amazon


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
Buy it on Amazon


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
Buy it on Amazon


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
Buy it on Amazon


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


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 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?