The New York-based string quartet ETHEL has been a champion of music by contemporary and emerging artists for close to 20 years. Part of ETHEL’s mission is to function as “cultural and musical pollinators” by advancing the work of a diverse community of artists through commissions, collaborations and recordings.
In 2008, ETHEL began collaborating with Grammy Award-winning Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal. Their latest project together is “The River,” which will be presented at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on October 3.
“We started working on “The River” with Robert at Denison University in Ohio, where we were the ensemble-in-residence,” explains ETHEL’s cellist Dorothy Lawson. “When it was time to polish it, we felt we needed to travel to Taos to be with Robert in his world. He taught us some of his music, and we shared ours with him.”
“The River” is treated as a ceremony that celebrates the critical importance of water throughout the world. Musicians tell stories, sing and play original music in a performance that has an improvisational feel to it. Mirabal plays a variety of flutes and some percussive instruments with ETHEL members Lawson, Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin) and Corin Lee (violin).
“We’ve learned so much from Robert,” Lawson adds. “He has an amazing playful personality, an ability to adapt and the strong intention to bring people together. He’s also a consummate performer who welcomes audience members to spend time with him. It’s been a transformational experience to work with him.”
ETHEL has been dedicated to working with Native American musicians since 2005 when the group became the string quartet-in-residence with the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project (NACAP), an affiliate program of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, which is dedicated to helping Native American youth compose concert music.
In 2011 NACAP was presented with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by First Lady Michelle Obama.