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.

Spektral Quartet Raises Over $4,000 for GirlForward

We are pleased to announce that we raised $4,150 for GirlForward, a Chicago-based non-profit organization dedicated to creating and enhancing opportunities for refugee girls.

For our Chicago premiere of Morton Feldman’s Quartet No. 2 on March 11th, we issued a challenge to attendees: for any concertgoer who stayed with us for the entirety of the five-hour epic, a donation would be made in their name to GirlForward.

Generously funded by key supporters, board members, and audience members, the Feldman Forward initiative aimed to take advantage of the enhanced visibility surrounding our performance by adding this charitable dimension. GirlForward was selected as the beneficiary based on strong recommendations from the community, as well as the organization’s relatively small size and potential impact this gift could make.

Read more about this amazing organization on their website:



Chicago Tribune: A quiet, 5-hour marathon scaled by Spektral Quartet at MCA

Chicago Tribune: A quiet, 5-hour marathon scaled by Spektral Quartet at MCA

The Everest of modern string quartets received its Chicago premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday night, and Spektral Quartet gamely scaled it in a mere five hours and eight minutes.

What? That's surely a misprint.

Well, no. Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 (1983) is the longest such piece in the active repertory. Its title page estimates duration to be between five and one-half and six and one-half hours. That is, of continuous music, without a break.

Chicago Classical Review: Spektral Quartet brings refined artistry, impressive stamina to Feldman work

Chicago Classical Review: Spektral Quartet brings refined artistry, impressive stamina to Feldman work

In their first complete performance of Feldman’s quartet, the Spektral members (violinists Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violist Doyle Armbrust and cellist Russell Rolen) brought tonal refinement, focused ensemble, and a terraced array of dynamics—consistently exploring the extreme degrees of pianissimo where most of the music lives.

Chicago Magazine: How Four Musicians Plan to Survive the Longest String Quartet Ever Written

 Illustration:  Ryan Snook

Illustration: Ryan Snook

Six hours onstage, with no intermission and rests barely long enough to sip water. Sounds more like Marina Abramović performance art than a chamber music concert. But that’s precisely what the daring local ensemble Spektral Quartet will undertake on March 11 at 6 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago when the group performs Morton Feldman’s formidable String Quartet No. 2. Lasting somewhere between five and just over six hours, Feldman’s work is the longest in the canonical string quartet repertoire. Here, in anticipation of the performance, the four musicians detail their seven steps for survival.

Pig out

At about 4 p.m. on the day of the event, eat enough to last eight hours. Protein over carbs, which might make Feldman-induced serenity (he’s known for quiet pieces) tip over to food coma.

Read the whole article here

Feldman No. 2: Doing the Time Warp (Part III)

Feldman No. 2: Doing the Time Warp (Part III)

One of the more fascinating elements of Feldman’s second quartet is that of memory. Yes, it’s an absurdly long, absurdly quiet piece, but as untethered as that might sound, it’s the recurrence of material that keeps us mindful of something passing, rather than just existing. And just like memory, it is wholly unreliable. The material sounds familiar, but one tiny detail of it has been renovated.

It reminds me of one of my most indelible memories from childhood. As a family that didn’t really do vacations, visiting my grandparents in Indianapolis was borderline exotic. I can’t remember what I was performing last month, or what I’m supposed to pick up from Whole Foods on my way home today, but I can feel my 10-year-old self sitting atop scratchy astroturf on their back porch, underneath a garden table, eating my Nana’s liverwurst sandwiches and icebox cookies. This fort was killer. I had ultimate agency–no one bothered me under there and I could read until dusk–and when I was lucky, it would rain. I can still see the way the sunlight filtered through the undulating, emerald fiberglass canopy above. I can smell the funk of the liverwurst. I start salivating at the thought of the crunch of perfectly-browned cookies.

Chicago Reader: Spektral Quartet give the local premiere of Morton Feldman’s String Quartet no. 2, all six hours of it

Chicago Reader: Spektral Quartet give the local premiere of Morton Feldman’s String Quartet no. 2, all six hours of it

The music is exquisitely quiet, so while string players don’t have to exert great pressure on their instruments, they hold their bows for what must feel like an eternity during long tones, which are only occasionally interrupted by pizzicato plucks. With recently enlisted violinist Maeve Feinberg joining Doyle Armbrust, Russell Rolen, and Clara Lyon, Chicago’s Spektral Quartet will provide the long overdue local premiere of the quartet in conjunction with the current Merce Cunningham exhibition “Common Time” (Feldman was one of many brilliant 20th-century composers who collaborated with the choreographer).

Feldman No. 2: Doing the Time Warp (Part II)

Feldman No. 2: Doing the Time Warp (Part II)

"The sense of time distortion and suspension present in Feldman 2 for me recalls the timelessness of many sleepless nights spent in love with nighttime rambles, and the hidden things only those who stay awake will see and hear. There is a certain way in which a non-linear, conceptual piece like Feldman 2 requires a listener to accept, absorb, and re-assemble kaleidoscopic patterns in a way that is similar to the music you can hear if you listen closely to a forest at nighttime–something I did a lot of growing up and, as the chance has presented itself, over the years. Once your eyes and ears and brain quiet down and adjust to the soft darkness of a forest it’s music is rarely quiet, often loud, seldom stagnant, and moves in a shape-shifting activity all it’s own: to find music in this place is to create a structure out of the tones and rhythms of unpredictable winds and birds and stars and raindrops and insects and who knows what other manner of creatures.