Founded in 2010, the Spektral Quartet is widely regarded as one of Chicago’s most magnetic and forward-thinking chamber ensembles. The group’s inclusive approach to concert format, shifting the role of audience member from spectator to ally, has earned it a loyal following within and beyond the city limits.
Since its inception, the Spektral Quartet has sought out the discourse between the masterworks of the traditional canon and those written this decade, this year, or this week. Rather than simply pairing Brian Ferneyhough with Josef Haydn or Thomas Adès with Béla Bartók, though, the group offers listeners an even more elastic and absorbing experience through its Sampler Pack concert format. For these performances, shorter works and single movements are curated in a setlist containing a menagerie of musical styles, spanning centuries. The unexpected similarities and enticing contrasts between two or three composers becomes a conversation between twelve.
The 2013/14 season found Spektral Quartet venturing into the intersection of music and everyday life with its Mobile Miniatures project. For it, forty composers from across the US including David Lang, Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly and Shulamit Ran were commissioned to write ringtone-length pieces for the quartet to workshop, record and make available to the public for download to mobile devices. 2013/14 also saw the release of the group’s first two full-length albums: Chambers,spotlighting the work of living, Chicago-based composers, and the South American-themed From This Point Forward with bandoneon/accordion virtuoso Julien Labro.
For its 2014/15 season, AMPLIFY, the quartet unveils its four largest-scale commissions to date as well as centerpieces from the traditional canon. These adventurous new works push the ensemble into uncharted and thrilling new territory: Artistic, in the case of David Reminick, whose five-movement new work features the musicians singing and playing simultaneously. Collaborative, for Anthony Cheung’s quintet, which partners the group for the first time with International Contemporary Ensemble founder and flutist, Claire Chase. Contextual, with Chris Fisher-Lochhead’s mining of the the timbres and cadences of comedy stars like Bill Cosby, Dave Chapelle, and Tig Notaro. And Experiential, in Alex Temple’s tour through scenes of gender fluidity, featuring indie luminary Julia Holter. With its commitment to an equal footing in the traditional canon and new music, essential entries from eras past balance out the quartet’s season with names such as Beethoven, Ligeti, Haydn, Crumb, Dvořák, and more.
The Spektral Quartet serves as ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago and was invited in 2013 to join the Rush Hour Series’s Back-of-the-Yards project, which offers year-long music education and outreach in one of Chicago’s most under-served neighborhoods.
Aurelien Fort Pederzoli violin
To peruse Aurelien Pederzoli’s Facebook wall is to enter a veritable archive of performance films. The Spektral Quartet’s primary recording and text excavator, it’s not uncommon for the French-born violinist to preface rehearsals with an untranslated treatise on Franco-Belgian bowing technique or a deep cut from the Amadeus Quartet vault he’s uncovered the previous evening. It should come as no surprise, then, that his earliest musical memory is of sitting cross-legged in front of the turntable at his childhood home in Nancy, enraptured by the voice of Yehudi Menuhin as the iconic violinist narrated an audio-book on the art of the luthier.
Beginning an international career as a concert soloist at age 7, Aurelien eventually made his way to the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied with Jean Lenert. Having worked with luminaries such as Vadim Repin, Yuri Bashmet, Misha Maisky, Gidon Kremer, Ilya Kaler, Ruggiero Ricci, Daniel Barenboim and Menuhin himself, Aurelien arrived in the States to study with Vermeer Quartet first violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi, eventually graduating from DePaul University in 2006. As a highly sought-after performer in Chicago, Aurelien’s name has appeared on the programs of such esteemed ensembles as International Chamber Artists, CUBE, Ensemble Dal Niente, Access Contemporary Music, and Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues. Aurelien’s true passion lies with the string quartet repertoire which he fostered as a co-founder of Anaphora before launching into a career with the Spektral Quartet. When he’s not tearing through the scores of Bartok and Beethoven in the practice room, Aurelien can be found composing short stories of dubious quality and in fierce chess battles with his wife, composer Sarah Ritch.
Favorite quote from a lesson:
“It’s easy to make something poor, good, but it’s terribly difficult to make something good, great.” -Shmuel Ashkenasi
Preferred after-rehearsal libation: Pabst Blue Ribbon
Chicago has gained a reputation for being one of the most dynamic new music scenes in the country, and if the program calls for preposterously demanding extended violin techniques, the smart money says the name “Austin Wulliman” is somewhere on the bill. One of the City’s most proficient new music performers, Austin is a centerpiece of the critically acclaimed contemporary outfit Ensemble Dal Niente. The past Violin Fellow with Aspen Music Festival’s Contemporary Ensemble, Austin has also appeared with the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow series, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne of Montreal. Given that the vast majority of the composers whose works he performs are not in fact dead but very much alive, Austin has had the privilege of poring over scores with the likes of William Bolcom, Pierre Boulez, John Harbison, Lee Hyla, Shulamit Ran, Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas, Kaija Saariaho, Gunther Schuller, Bright Sheng and Mark Anthony Turnage.
With degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Michigan, where he graduated summa cum laude, Austin only considered a career as a violinist in high school, when his teacher asked if he intended to pursue the instrument: “Of course, I didn’t know then exactly how much work I was getting into…good thing I was monumentally naive at the time!” When he’s not busy cursing the tempo markings of composer Brian Ferneyhough, Austin can be found working up a sweat on a long-distance run atop Chicago’s lakefront, listening to the latest podcast from Marc Maron or The Bugle.
Favorite quote from a lesson:
“Practice slower to learn faster.” -Blair Milton
Preferred after-rehearsal libation: Green Flash Imperial IPA
Doyle Armbrust viola
Doyle Armbrust is one of three siblings, all of whom play the viola professionally. To answer the inevitable questions: (1) the violin slots at Wheaton College Suzuki Program were completely full and (2) there was and is no competitiveness between them…inexplicably. As the Spektral Quartet’s resident wordsmith, Doyle bisects Spektral rehearsals interviewing the likes of Mitsuko Uchida and David Lang among others for TimeOut Chicago and the Chicago Classical Review. Currently the principal violist of the Firebird Chamber Orchestra in Miami, FL, Doyle is also a core member of the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow series, Ensemble Dal Niente and the New Millennium Orchestra. He’s also been seen onstage with Peter Gabriel, Eddie Vedder, The Beach Boys, Glen Hansard, Lupe Fiasco as well as occasionally dodging pyrotechnics with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. A frequent guest artist with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Doyle has appeared as a guest artist with new music dynamos eighth blackbird and been featured on the University of Chicago Presents and CONTEMPO series. A full merit scholarship recipient Masters student at the University of Southern California where he studied with Donald McInnes, Doyle went on to a three-year fellowship under Michael Tilson Thomas at the New World Symphony. Having worked closely and performed with Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Neville Mariner, MTT, Robert Vernon, Charlie Pikler and Roberto Diaz, Doyle ultimately decided to eschew the orchestral path for a life in chamber music. When he’s not busy changing strings after yet another Berio Viola Sequenza practice session, Doyle can be found kayaking amidst the Apostle Islands and cooking in the cast iron with his wife, playwright Laura Schellhardt.
Favorite quote from a lesson:
“No..it’s so-la-ti-fa-mi-mi-re-ti-do-la-so-ti-fa-so-fa-so-fa-so-fa-so-re-la-ti-mi-mi-do-re-fa-mi-do-RE!” -Pierre Boulez
Preferred after-rehearsal libation: Dogfish Head 90-minute Imperial IPA
Russell Rolen is the quartet-rehearsal equivalent of having Earl Warren whispering you answers during the LSAT. This music theory geek of the highest order is highly in demand as pedagogue in Chicago, as well as the go-to speaker for the Quartet’s presentations in universities. Having studied with teaching luminaries such as Hans Jørgen-Jensen, Uri Vardi, and Stephen Kates, Russell’s talents also have him performing as the principal cellist in Miami’s Firebird Chamber Orchestra and appearing on programs alongside the likes of Rachel Barton-Pine, fiddler Mark O’Connor, Ilya Kaler, composer Kaija Saariaho, and Anner Bylsma.
Truly an educator at heart, Russell enjoys teaching a wide range of musicians, from least experienced six-year-old to the extraordinarily talented graduate students in the chamber music program at Northwestern University. His recent doctoral dissertation project resulted in moderncellotechniques.com, an innovative web-based approach to teaching the cello techniques of contemporary music. Fully dedicated to ushering in the next generation of musicians, Russell spearheaded Northwestern’s 2009 “Music Marathon,” a 24-hour concert that raised more than $30,000 for The People’s Music School, a local institution providing music lessons to under-served communities. When he’s not identifying the third partial for a D-string harmonic to a grateful cello student, Russell can be found reading dry non-fiction books or camping in one of the area’s state parks with his wife, Sara.
Favorite quote from a lesson:
“You gotta go BANANAS!” -Irv Eisenberg (as Russ played the 1st movement of the Ravel Quartet)
Preferred after-rehearsal libation: Bells Two-Hearted Ale