About Us

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 timbres and cadences of comedy stars like Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, 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.

Clara Lyon, violin

Clara

ClaraViolinist Clara Lyon is said to come from a very talented musical family, but the DNA results have been ruled inadmissible for this bio. Sources confirm she studied with Glenn Dicterow for her undergraduate work at Juilliard and Soovin Kim at State University of New York at Stony Brook for her Master’s and Doctoral degrees. Having recently completed a fellowship with Ensemble ACJW, Clara is currently editing her first book, “A Hitch In His Giddyup: Dvořák the Cowboy.”*

* – fact-checking not yet completed

Q & A

If you had to pick one, who is your musical hero?

Britney.  Duh.  Actually, probably more like Olivier Messiaen.

What is your favorite thing to do or hobby outside of music?

Quest for adventure. And theme parties.

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked at the airport when traveling with a case?

Is that a viola?

What one concert (of any genre) changed your life?

Several years ago I saw the Juilliard Quartet perform all six Bartok quartets.  Every gesture was so cared for and well-sculpted, I was on the edge of my seat every single moment! That concert really solidified for me what it means to be an interpreter — vigilance in study and craft, and total commitment to phrases.

What’s the most trouble you ever got into at music camp?

Ohhhhhh boy…not sure I should share

What’s your go-to piece for introducing someone to new music?

Reich, Music for 18 Musicians

What’s the most useful/inspirational piece of advice you ever received from a teacher or coach?

“Don’t expect for it to feel good every time you play.” This was a big learning point for me.

When a friend visits Chicago, what is the one place/restaurant/thing you have to go do/see?

Still trying to go find all those places myself!  Can’t wait for my first Art Institute trip!

What living composer is KILLING IT for you right now?

Kurtag. And Dave Reminick.

Why do you play in a string quartet?

Best rep list on the planet.  I also love that in a string quartet, the relationship and vibe of the group is so intimate.  It keeps you honest and keeps you learning.

Give us a great, relatively-under-the-radar tv/movie recommendation.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a cinematic triumph, and also Tim Burton’s first, and best, movie.

If you could have any pet, real or imaginary, what would it be?

Unicorn. Closely followed by a Komodo dragon, 3 goats, 2 llamas, at least 1 dog, an otter, a skunk, and a narwhal.

What is the most exotic location/setting at which you’ve performed?

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at a celebration of the opening of a school that was rebuilt after the earthquake.

Which string quartet in history had the best hair?

Amadeus Quartet would certainly be up there, as well as Cleveland Quartet in the 1970s.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An actress, a painter, or a film director.

If the quartet could collaborate with any artist, who would you choose?

Wes Anderson

What should Spektral Quartet’s metal, alter-ego band name be?

The Scent of Carnage

What is currently your favorite beer?

Delirium Tremens

Austin Wulliman, violin

Austin

AustinViolinist Austin Wulliman has spent the majority of his adult life championing the works of living composers, micro-chipping the younger specimens and releasing them back into their native habitats*. Official-looking certificates on the walls of his office allege he received a Bachelor of Music degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Michigan (with Aaron Berofsky) and a Master’s degree from Northwestern University (with Blair Milton). Austin can frequently be found running obscene distances along Lake Michigan in inclement weather.

* – fact-checking not yet completed

Q & A

If you had to pick one, who is your musical hero?

Glenn Gould. Creativity, originality and integrity.

What is your favorite thing to do or hobby outside of music?

Running

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked at the airport when traveling with a case?

People used to always think I was a trombone player for some reason, but that stopped in my late 20s…don’t know why…

What one concert (of any genre) changed your life?

Takacs Quartet: Bartok complete string quartets in one afternoon in Ann Arbor. It was ELECTRIC.

What’s the most trouble you ever got into at music camp?

We assembled all the chicken bones from our table at Interlochen and hid them in one of the percussion lockers that was hard to find.

What’s your go-to piece for introducing someone to new music?

Depends on the listener: Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians or Fausto Romitelli, Professor Bad Trip

What’s the most useful/inspirational piece of advice you ever received from a teacher or coach?

Practice slower to learn faster. -Blair Milton

When a friend visits Chicago, what is the one place/restaurant/thing you have to go do/see?

Longman & Eagle

What living composer is KILLING IT for you right now?

George Lewis and Raphael Cendo

Why do you play in a string quartet?

To be continually challenged by my colleagues, the great quartets of the past/present, and the intense demands of the quartet repertoire.

If you could have any pet, real or imaginary, what would it be?

I’m aiming toward a running-companion dog someday…

What is the most exotic location/setting at which you’ve performed?

A glass-walled banquet room of a high-rise hotel in Panama City.

Which string quartet in history had the best hair?

My role model is Alban Berg Quartet’s second violinist, the bounciness of his hair is crucial to any live-recorded Beethoven quartet cycle.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Cartographer

If the quartet could collaborate with any artist, who would you choose?

Sarah Sze

What should Spektral Quartet’s metal, alter-ego band name be?

Prism of Darkness

What is currently your favorite beer?

The Bruery “The Sour in the Rye” for special occasions only

Doyle Armbrust, viola

Doyle

Photo by Daniel Kullman

Photo by Daniel Kullman

Violist Doyle Armbrust is perhaps best known for showing up to his elementary school’s “Dress Like Your Sports Hero Day” costumed as Pinchas Zukerman. His hearing has since improved, and Doyle is reported to have been awarded a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California, studying with Donald McInnes. While it is a matter of record that he completed a three-year fellowship at the New World Symphony, Doyle’s claims of gator-wrestling during that period remain unsubstantiated.*

* – fact-checking not yet completed

Q & A

If you had to pick one, who is your musical hero?

Kim K-A-S-H-K-A-S-H-I-A-N

What is your favorite thing to do or hobby outside of music?

It was kayaking in Lake Superior…but now it’s trying to stack the deck so that my 10-month-old’s first word is “Klangfarbenmelodie.”

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked at the airport when traveling with a case?

“Will you play me “Devil Went Down to Georgia’?” (this happens regularly)

What one concert (of any genre) changed your life?

Björk at Coachella in 2007 blew my head right open, given how meticulous and imaginative was the performance.

What’s the most trouble you ever got into at music camp?

Definitely getting chased by cops while riding in “borrowed” golf-carts at Chicago Youth Symphony’s Green Lake retreat. Sorry, mom.

What’s your go-to piece for introducing someone to new music?

Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” has been the most effective gateway drug for me, historically.

What’s the most useful/inspirational piece of advice you ever received from a teacher or coach?

“You need to walk out on that stage with the confidence and composure of Barbra Streisand.” – Don McInnes

When a friend visits Chicago, what is the one place/restaurant/thing you have to go do/see?

Record shop tour, for sure. Permanent Records, Jazz Record Mart, Dusty Groove, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, Shake Rattle & Read

What living composer is KILLING IT for you right now?

Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Why do you play in a string quartet?

I am inspired by the vulnerability of the thing. And the responsibility of one-voice-per-part. And the necessity of trust. And Beethoven.

Give us a great, relatively-under-the-radar tv/movie recommendation.

The British tv series Black Mirror. Netflix it immediately.

What’s the weirdest gig you ever played?

A Richard Marx / Kenny Loggins double-bill

If you could have any pet, real or imaginary, what would it be?

A falcon. No contest.

What is the most exotic location/setting at which you’ve performed?

Bethlehem. In a handbell choir of all things.

Which string quartet in history had the best hair?

1980’s Tokyo Quartet

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Archaeologist

If the quartet could collaborate with any artist, who would you choose?

Matthew Barney

What should Spektral Quartet’s metal, alter-ego band name be?

Extended Deathniques

What is currently your favorite beer?

Revolution’s Anti-Hero

Russell Rolen, cello

Russ

Photo by Daniel Kullman

Photo by Daniel Kullman

Cellist Russell Rolen is a doctor…but not that kind of doctor. With a Doctoral degree from Northwestern University, a Master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Bachelor’s from the Peabody Conservatory of Music under his belt, Russell has been exposed as the mastermind behind moderncellotechniques.com. A meticulous repository of extended techniques for cellists, the site also offers pro-bono refereeing services to composers engaging in notation battles on social media.*

* – fact-checking not yet completed

Q & A

If you had to pick one, who is your musical hero?

As a cellist, I look to Pablo Casals and Yo-Yo Ma as examples of musicians who have used their positions as artists in society to be ambassadors of classical music to the wider public and to draw awareness to important causes outside of the music world.

What is your favorite thing to do or hobby outside of music?

Hiking/camping in mountains.  Unfortunately I don’t get to do that much here in the flatlands.

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked at the airport when traveling with a case?

Is that a piano?

What’s the most trouble you ever got into at music camp?

Marrowstone Music Festival, 1989, I was 12.  Used to sneak out at night and go back into the hills to explore the decommissioned Army barracks.  I was caught one time and my parents were called in the middle of the night. which is bad news for a middle-schooler.  It’s not the worst thing I ever did at a music camp, but it’s the time I was caught.  ;-)

What’s your go-to piece for introducing someone to new music?

Whatever we’re working on. I love showing my students the scores and bewildering them with all the crazy stuff that composers make us learn how to do. 

When a friend visits Chicago, what is the one place/restaurant/thing you have to go do/see?

Thai Spice on Devon Avenue, and if the weather is good, the Chicago Architecture boat tour.

Why do you play in a string quartet?

I find it to be both the most challenging and the most rewarding form of music-making. It demands such a high degree of listening, adapting, exactitude, and a balance of showmanship and humility.  But mostly humility.  Oh, and playing in tune.

What’s the weirdest gig you ever played?

I once played a wedding gig that had an LOTR theme for the processional and a Coldplay song for the recessional. Is that weird enough?

If you could have any pet, real or imaginary, what would it be?

A magic unicorn that could grant me 4 extra hours per day.

Which string quartet in history had the best hair?

Hands down, the Cleveland Quartet, circa 1973

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A doctor

Tell us about a time you unwittingly left your instrument somewhere.

One time I had borrowed a very nice bow from my teacher Stephen Kates.  I placed the bow case in the overhead luggage rack on a northbound Amtrak train on my short trip from DC to Baltimore, and then completely forgot it when leaving the train. I realized my mistake about 20 minutes later…..too late.  I spent the remainder of the night sick to my stomach, trying to track the train (not as easy in 1998, mind you) and call ahead to stations get someone to care enough to board the train and search for it.  At its final stop in Boston at like 1am, I was able to get someone to do just that, and they found it and sent it back FedEx.  Professor Kates was never the wiser.

What should Spektral Quartet’s metal, alter-ego band name be?

Ok I’m really the wrong guy for this question.  I only know like 3 metal band names in total.

What is currently your favorite beer?

I’m drinking Atom Smasher by Two Brothers as I answer this question.  So that’s my favorite at the moment.