Step Tempest: Culture, Music, Fusion, & Emotion

“"Yo Soy La Tradición" is brilliant, an entrancing, attractive, intelligent, and often stunning collection of songs that blur the lines between classical, folk, jazz, and popular music. In fact, throw out any and all labels. The insistence on labels only insults the intelligence of the audience.  Instead, focus on how beautiful - yes, beautiful - this music is.  Listen deeply, smile with it, be moved by the passions and the emotions, and enjoy how seamless the arrangements are throughout.  This is not "background music"; instead, this album will resonate for as long as you give yourself fully to the experience.  Kudos to Miguel Zenón and the Spektral Quartet!”

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“Zenón’s album Yo Soy La Tradición is not as explicitly political, though he says it’s hard not to find that in the series of eight new compositions, his alto sax woven with the Spektral strings.

Zenón says that much of the mission of this album is to shed a light on the beleaguered island commonwealth of Puerto Rico – not just post-Maria, with help still slow to come, but with a mind on issues that have existed for decades, some coming from its perceived status as a “lesser” part of the U.S. But the learning process most essential to the album, he says, was his own.

“As a Puerto Rican and a Puerto Rican musician, I’m amazed by how little I know,” he says. “Always something to discover, something around the corner. And when you get into something, there’s something more after that. A lot of the ideas on the album I’ve been focused on for a while, but wanted to dig deeper for this project.””

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Chicago Classical Review: Spektral Quartet wraps Schoenberg series with metal virtuosity

"How many string quartets are there today that can make late Schoenberg seem like heavy metal?The Spektral Quartet wrapped its season-long survey of Arnold Schoenberg’s string quartets Sunday afternoon at the Art Institute. It’s a testament to the ensemble’s devoted local following that Fullerton Hall was quite respectably filled for a program that didn’t exactly cater to populist tastes.
A superb coda to the group’s ambitious and distinguished Schoenberg series. One looks forward to seeing what the Spektral Quartet will cook up for the 2018-19 season."


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Chicago Tribune: Spektral Quartet confirms Schoenberg's power in stirring concert

(photo credit: Erin Hooley for Chicago Tribune)

(photo credit: Erin Hooley for Chicago Tribune)

"The first great upheaval in modern concert life occurred more than a century ago, in Vienna, with the 1908 premiere of Arnold Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, which elicited booing, heckling and laughter.
Audiences today are much more polite, though the consequences of the score’s emancipation of dissonance still are felt in concert halls, as many listeners are yet to warm to music that Schoenberg and his disciples felt was historically necessary.
But few can warm to scores that are not being played, so the Spektral Quartet has created an important series of programs presenting all four Schoenberg quartets surrounded by some of the richest music written by others around the same time. Saturday night’s stirring concert at the University of Chicago’s Fulton Recital Hall placed the Schoenberg Second Quartet among works by Anton Webern and Bela Bartok.
There was to have been a progression from the first work Webern wrote under Schoenberg’s tutelage, the “Langsamer Satz” of 1905, to Bartok’s First Quartet, which was contemporaneous with Schoenberg’s Second (on the concert’s bottom half). But travel considerations because of snow forced some rearranging of the order of pieces, with Bartok ending the program, creating a slight letdown.
Not that the playing was anything but ardent, precise and expressive throughout. Yet many in the audience were in no mood for anything after the transcendent Schoenberg and did not return from intermission. This was an unexpected confirmation of the Schoenberg’s power. All it requires are keen and committed performers, which it got in the Spektral and soprano Kiera Duffy."

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WFMT: 10 Best Live Performances in 2017

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In 2017, we – alongside our friends in Third Coast Percussion and Lincoln Trio – played live on WFMT to celebrate each group's having been nominated for a Grammy Award last year. We're pleased to share that the station has included that broadcast as one of its '10 Best Live Performances at WFMT in 2017!'

Listen to all of the Top 10 broadcasts here

Chicago Tribune: Chicagoans of the Year 2017

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"Chicago’s Spektral Quartet continues to explode the stereotype of how a classical string quartet should behave.

Violinists Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violist Doyle Armbrust and cellist Russell Rolen make it their mission to break free of constraints so that they might pull in new and more diverse listeners to the music they love.

Even for a polished chamber group that’s known for its boldly creative ways, 2017 was a watershed, and its singular achievements made the Spektral our choice as outstanding classical ensemble of the year.

No other local group made new and unfamiliar music so compelling an aural adventure. And not just new music: The Spektral brought as much finely calibrated vitality to Haydn as it did to Elliott Carter.

Its biggest coup of the year was a performance of Morton Feldman’s visionary five-hour String Quartet No. 2 (1983), in March at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Spektral’s acute concentration stopped time in its tracks.

October marked the launch of another cutting-edge Spektral venture, a season-long cycle of the four demanding string quartets of Arnold Schoenberg.

The real game-changer, however, was the quartet’s launch of three new concert series bringing fresh formats to unusual venues across the city.

The Dovetail series aims to foster cultural exchanges on the South Side, just as Once More, With Feeling tucks a composer conversation between performances of that composer’s music.

Then there’s Close Encounters, a series that includes everything from a concert with cocktails in a private Frank Lloyd Wright home, to painting instruction from an art professor while you listen to the quartet performing a commissioned work.

Just the sort of hip interdisciplinary mashup Spektral can bring off better than just about any other classical string quartet around, and a prime example of how the group made the impossible possible in 2017."

Read about all of the Tribune's 'Chicagoans of the Year' here

National Sawdust Log: Best of 2017 – National Sawdust Highlights

"This spirited, personable Chicago string quartet came calling with a wide-ranging program amiably titled “Playing Out.” Offering as its calling card a New Yorker’s piece as arranged by a current Chicagoan (Arthur Russell’s “I’m Hiding Your Present from You,” reworked by Katherine Young), the quartet reinforced bonds between the two cities in major pieces by George Lewis (Chicago-born, New York-based) and Anthony Cheung (a longtime New Yorker now teaching at the University of Chicago). And you’ll surely recall that flutist Claire Chase, who performed in Cheung’s piece, initially established the International Contemporary Ensemble in both Chicago and New York. A clever, appealing work by Chicago-based Samuel C. Adams filled the bill; the New York Classical Review ran an attentive account by David Wright."

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Chicago Classical Review: Top Ten Performances of 2017

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"In just a few short years, the Spektral Quartet has established itself as Chicago’s premiere string quartet. Personnel changes have only bolstered their status, especially Clara Lyon coming aboard as first violinist.
In March the adventurous ensemble brought to Chicago the belated local premiere of Morton Feldman’s six-hour String Quartet No. 2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Spektral managed to shave nearly an hour off of Feldman’s epic canvas, yet the performance never felt rushed, and the players (violinists Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violist Doyle Armbrust and cellist Russell Rolen) brought polished refinement, scrupulous focus, and a terraced array of dynamics to Feldman’s score, exploring the extreme degrees of pianissimo where most of this music lives."

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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."

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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."

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