Nov 29, 2010 Uncategorized
Turtle Island Quartet: Turtle Island Quartet will make a stop on its 25th anniversary tour for a Live at Rose Lehrman performance at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, in the Rose Lehrman Arts Center on the Harrisburg Campus of HACC.
Guest musicians Mike Marshall (mandolin) and Cyrus Chestnut (piano) will accompany the group in a concert featuring a mix of jazz, folk and R&B styles with a flavoring of holiday tunes.
David Balakrishnanin started the quartet in 1985 and it has been a bold force in the creation of new trends in chamber music for strings. Winner of the 2006 and 2008 Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album, Turtle Island combines the classical quartet with contemporary American musical styles. The quartet has a repertoire consisting of hundreds of arrangements and originals.
They have been featured on the “Today Show,” “All Things Considered,” “Prairie Home Companion,” and “Morning Edition.” Turtle Island has also been seen in both People and Newsweek magazines, and has scored high reviews from around the country.
Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for senior citizens, and $15 for students. Contact the box office at 231-ROSE (7673). Tickets also are on sale at www.LiveatRoseLehrman.org.
Nov 23, 2010 Uncategorized
Musicians, like other species, mutate and adapt to survive — or, in the case of groups like the pioneering Bay Area–based Turtle Island String Quartet, simply because doing so captivates them and stirs the juices that got them going in the first place. Oh, yeah: Adding some screaming licks based on the most celebrated psychedelic-era musician of all time never hurts, either.
This double-Grammy-Award-winning group is now celebrating its 25th anniversary with two San Francisco Performances–sponsored concerts on Dec. 10 and 11 (the latter a specially priced family matinee), where it will perform songs from its latest CD, Have You Ever Been …, a tribute to Jimi Hendrix’s iconic album, Electric Ladyland. The program will feature guests Mike Marshall on mandolin and jazz piano prodigy Cyrus Chestnut, in addition to TISQ members Mark Summer, Mads Tolling, and Jeremy Kittel.
San Francisco Classical Voice caught up with TISQ violinist David Balakrishnan by phone at his Albany home. He’s looking forward to the San Francisco gig, saying, “It will be a great party! You should come.”
You’ve been a Hendrix fan since you were a kid growing up in Los Angeles. Why was he such a powerful influence?
Hearing Jimi was kind of like the primary phrasing foundation of my life, although I don’t think I thought of it in quite those terms at the time when I was a kid [laughs]. I was playing the violin within the tradition of the school systems, which were good and still are — I’m amazed by the strength of the string culture in America — but it was still like doing homework. Growing up in the ‘60s, rock ‘n’ roll was getting going, and we were all in love with the guitar. I got one to noodle around with when I was 13, like a million other kids, and Hendrix’s sound was the one I completely fell in love with. He was so far above and beyond everyone else at the time that it was, like, a million light years away.
I heard him twice at the L.A. Forum, first with the Experience, and then with Band of Gypsies, and I remember my mouth falling open, and experiencing a feeling of astounding joy. How could you ever feel that way again? It’s like falling in love for the first time. That’s what created the first intense love of music for me, not playing classical music. But, listening to Hendrix, I realized that I could do that on violin … the guitar player uses the amp and all those tricks to create a sustained sound, like a violinist would play with a bow. If you try to do that with an acoustic guitar, it just goes plunk. So I was one of the fortunate ones who got to go off the page and start playing licks.
I was OK on guitar, but realized that I was better on violin. Plus, there were some other violinists playing rock at the time — David LaFlamme [of It’s a Beautiful Day]; Papa John Creach; Sugarcane Harris, who played with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers; and Jean-Luc Ponty and the Mahavishnu Orchestra had a violinist. So it wasn’t unknown.
Turtle Island String Quartet with Mike Marshall, mandolin and Cyrus Chestnut, piano
Venue: Herbst Theatre
City: San Francisco
Date: December 10, 2010 8:00 PM
Price Range: $50/$40/$30
Buy Tickets Learn More
Was [Hendrix] burning his guitar at the end of the gig when you saw him?
No. I saw him toward the end. It was his last year, and when I read about it now, I know it was his last year, and he was pretty tired and was going through a lot. But it’s fascinating to look back. A lot has happened in my life since then. Each one of us in Turtle Island has a similar story of how, as a child, we’ve gotten off the page. It’s not crossing over — as [bassist] Edgar Meyer told me, “You’re not crossing over, you’re already there” [laughs]. It’s kind of a bipolar thing. I started out studying for a master’s degree and composing music, and then discovered more-complicated vocabularies like jazz, 12-tone composition, fiddle music, and then Indian music — my father’s from India. So this record represents the culmination of the past 25 years, in a certain way.
One thing Turtle Island can do successfully is play the music of great American nonclassical master musicians like [John] Coltrane and Jimi. This whole thing started when we played a gig back east in Bethel Woods, where Woodstock took place, and I kind of hung out in the museum there where they had a clip of his performance. The camera homed in on him, and I saw him recognize the camera, which would be a very scary moment for the rest of us mere mortals, and I could see it in his eyes that he wasn’t scared at all, that he was determined to play the most outrageous show possible. So I just thought, This is an American musical genius, and we need to represent him. I didn’t see it as a great commercial idea, but I knew others might see it that way, so I held onto it for a while before we got started on the recording. To me, it was like holy ground.
You’ve said you want him to be appreciated as a composer, not just as a performer and guitarist?
Yes, listening to Electric Ladyland is very interesting, because it’s one of the first extensively overdubbed records in rock ‘n’ roll. It’s in the same spirit as someone like Bobby McFerrin, who composes by overdubbing these amazing rhythmic melodic parts and orchestral lines. What a composer Hendrix was!
Since you’re such a fanatic on the subject, did the other members of the group think, Oh, this is David’s thing?
[Laughs.] Well … not only that: Two of the guys in the group are in their 20s. But Hendrix is such a huge voice — nobody could ignore that he’s a great musician. You could maybe find fault with some of those old recordings; there’s plenty to be critical about. But people had to trust that I could help them make it work. Honestly, at first I forced us all to just stare at the page. I’d say, “I don’t want you to play this stuff like it’s just a part.” So we’d all go home with assignments: “See if you can capture the sound on the violin and explore ways to make the textures work.” Very often, when you’re arranging someone’s music you can change it, recompose it if you will, but that’s not what happened in this case.
You’ve written your own Hendrix-inspired composition, Tree of Life, sections of which also appear on the new album. How do they fit in?
When I wrote Tree of Life I wasn’t thinking so much about Hendrix. It’s more that it represents me at a mature stage as a composer, and something very deep about what Turtle Island’s all about. String quartets are more known as a mirror of the culture than presenting original music. But if you look at role models like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, that’s something that’s unique to Turtle Island that we deliver on: the ability to transcend style.
One of the things we’re really known for is playing jazz pieces, which is great, but can be a bit frustrating, like being a cover band or something. But there is a link, because the Hendrix sound was so much a part of how I hear music in a bedrock way. The language of how he played is the same way he composed. There’s something called a “Hendrix chord” that musicians know about — it’s a sharp nine [an interval], that he used on Purple Haze and Foxy Lady that has a stretchy feeling that makes you feel like you’re being pulled, in all kinds of ways. It’s messy energy — not necessarily dark, but primal, in a way.
Keith Richards is getting a lot of attention for explaining the mysteries behind his guitar riffs (and Mick [Jagger]) in his new autobiography. Would you consider doing an album of Stones material — say, Exile on Main Street?
The problem is, how far would you go down that road? We’re a group that takes a huge swath through so many styles, but what makes it work is focus on our individual connections with the music. I love the Rolling Stones, but I don’t know that I would want to cover a whole album of their work, though I could certainly see doing individual songs. A lot of other quartets are playing rock ‘n’ roll covers, so in a way it’s already being done. Our thing is our thing.
The most important thing is to stick to your original vision. After 25 years, even though there have been tremendous pressures to be pulled sideways, Turtle Island is still based exactly on what I had in 1981, when I was dreaming about a string quartet of four players grounded in jazz and classical music, and which ultimately resulted in the founding of the group in 1985. It was a way for violinists to get off the page. It wasn’t a career path, although it has become one now, to some extent, with an academic pathway for eclectic styles.
The thing you look for is a way to find your way through confusion. If you take a wide range of styles, like we do, there are times when you can only go so far in any direction. That’s the thing you surrender. But you look for a lot of diversity, and then find a place to organize that diversity.
The group takes its name from Gary Snyder’s poem about the need to unite indigenous culture with the colonized. Have you ever met Snyder?
We contacted him at one point to try to do a project, but I don’t really know him. He’s kind of a formidable guy. He’s famous and older, someone you have to be careful in approaching. But something might happen with Gary that he doesn’t know about yet.
Getting back to the upcoming concert, what’s it like collaborating with Mark, Mike, Cyrus, and the others?
What amazing musicians! This is where you can get into the meat and potatoes of Turtle Island. One of the ways we make music work is that we’re all not only improvisers, but Mark Summer, in addition to being a top-notch classical player, of course, knows how to create a jazz rhythm section. He’s got a little bit of James Brown in him. I introduce him as “on cello, bass, and drums, the one-and-only Mark Summer.” So we go between two worlds. I feel, when I get to play with someone like Cyrus, who I’ve been imitating for years, that I’m a hybrid, an early Prius. When he does a song like “Crossroads,” he turns it into this jazz-bluesy thing. First there was the Eric Clapton version, and then he sounds like he’s in a bar, which is of course how all this music started.
You’re playing Vince Guaraldi [who composed scores for the Peanuts TV shows] at the concert. Who are you more like, Linus or Lucy?
[Laughs.] Oh, my goodness. … Of course, Linus comes to mind, but maybe a little bit of Lucy. I can be a bit of a tease. I’d rather be a Linus, but the truth is I’m probably more of a Lucy. I can throw a monkey wrench in the works and be annoying!
Paul Wilner is a longstanding arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Arts & Leisure section, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Monterey County Weekly, and other publications.
Nov 18, 2010 Uncategorized
String quartet brings improvisation to Scottsdale
by Dolores Tropiano – Nov. 17, 2010 01:41 PM
Special for the Republic
Cellist Mark Summer never wanted any part of a string quartet.
“I came from Cleveland, Ohio, where playing in a string quartet was fun, but players can get weird with one another,” said Summer, 52, a founding member of Turtle Island Quartet.
“It’s kind of legendary, because they are in each other’s faces all the time.”
After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music and performing with several groups, a morning meditation directed Summer to the San Francisco area, where he was invited by David Balakrishnan to help form a quartet that featured improvisation, original music and what Summer describes as “an intoxicating mix of styles.”
Summer signed on.
That was 25 years ago.
Turtle Island Quartet will celebrate its silver anniversary with a performance at 8 p.m. Friday at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
The name of the crossover group refers to Native American folk mythology and is a creative way of saying that the quartet plays a musical repertoire that includes classical, jazz, rock, blues, New Age, swing and Latin music – all with what Summer describes as an American accent.
The group is made up of Summer, Balakrishnan (violin), Mads Tolling (violin), and Jeremy Kittel (viola). Many of the group’s compositions are written by Balakrishnan, who has a bachelor’s degree in music composition from UCLA and a master’s degree in music composition from Antioch University West-San Francisco.
Tolling and Kittel are the youngest members of the group. Tolling graduated in 2003 from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Kittel graduated from the University of Michigan and received his master’s in jazz violin in 2007 from the Manhattan School of Music.
Though most of their Friday set will be determined backstage just before the performance, Summer said they are sure to play pieces from their latest Jimi Hendrix tribute album “Have You Ever Been . . . ?” and songs with special guest mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall.
“Americans love their things all mixed up,” Summer said. “They love the idea of a string quartet coming out and playing Bach and then John Calderon. It is a really novel thing.”
In 2006 and 2008, the group won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album. It has recorded more than a dozen albums for major labels as well as soundtracks for movies, TV and radio, including “All Things Considered,” and “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Besides the love of improvisation, Summer says the quartet has the ability to cover all the roles of a jazz ensemble and other groups, imitating the textures of various instruments, including percussion sections.
The result is music that excites audiences.
“We are playing our instruments to create a groove,” Summer said. “Everything is groove-based. It is music that makes you tap your toe and wiggle your feet.”
It also might keep the man who once had an aversion to string quartets committed to Turtle Island for years to come.
“As a cellist, there is no more amazing gig than Turtle Island, because I get to play this great music that David is writing,” Summer said.
Nov 17, 2010 Uncategorized
Grammy-Winning Quartet Relies on Bartlett Microphones
A two-time Grammy winner, the Turtle Island Quartet is known for its lush string sound and genre-bending musical innovation. Now celebrating its 25th year as a quartet, this Fall the group has chosen Bartlett miniature instrument microphones for their live-sound reinforcement.
Violist Jeremy Kittel says, “The mics are sounding great — no EQ at all necessary most of the time.” The quartet had previously used microphones that needed a fair amount of EQ at the mixer to reduce harshness, but the new Bartlett mics are tuned specifically for close-miking stringed instruments.
“I recently heard the Quartet perform at the University of Notre Dame” said microphone designer Bruce Bartlett. “It was a thrill to hear these virtuoso players using our mics in concert. The house sound was warm, sweet and easy on the ears.”
Since 1985 the Turtle Island Quartet has created new trends in chamber music for strings — playing jazz, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, rock, hip-hop as well as the music of Latin America and India. Their latest album “Have You Ever Been” features the music of Jimi Hendrix and Turtle Island Quartet founder and composer-in-residence David Balakrishnan.
With over a dozen major-label recordings and motion picture sound tracks, the group has appeared on the Today Show, All Things Considered, and Prairie Home Companion.
Bartlett Microphones, located in Elkhart, Indiana, designs and builds specialty microphones for acoustic instruments and theater productions. Owner/engineer Bruce Bartlett says, “As long-time fans of the Turtle Island Quartet, we are honored to help convey its beautiful sound to its audiences.”
Nov 12, 2010 Uncategorized
Turtle Island Quartet to play at Hope on Friday
Thu, Nov 11, 2010
HOLLAND — The Hope College Great Performance Series will feature the Grammy-winning Turtle Island Quartet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, at Dimnent Memorial Chapel.
Turtle Island derived its name from American Indian creation lore when it began in 1985. The quartet appeared on Hope’s Great Performance Series lineup in 1992 and now returns as the group celebrates its 25th anniversary as an ensemble.
The group won the 2006 and 2008 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Crossover category.
Individual tickets for the performance are $18 for regular admission, $13 for senior citizens, and $6 for children age 18 and under. They are available at the ticket office in the main lobby of the DeVos Fieldhouse.
Nov 7, 2010 Uncategorized
Nov 6, 2010
Dancers challenge quartet with ‘Danzón’
By HOWARD DUKES
Tribune Staff Writer
The Luna Negra Dance Theater tries to bring an avant-garde feel to art forms that have been viewed as being somewhat old school.
The Luna Negra Dance Theater performs Wednesday and Thursday at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts.
Luna Negra Dance Theater, Turtle Island Quartet and Paquito D’Rivera perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $35-$8. For more information, call 574-631-2800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 574-631-2800 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or visit the website performingarts.nd.edu.
Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the group’s artistic director, says Luna Negra builds on the folkloric styles of Latin dance, but the group is not beholden to the traditional styles of choreography.
Sansano says that Luna Negra works with young choreographers who create works that fuse Latin dance with more contemporary musical styles, a combination it will put on display Wednesday and Thursday at the University of Notre Dame when it performs a new work commissioned by the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts in a collaboration with the Turtle Island Quartet and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera.
Violinist David Balakrishnan, founder of Turtle Island, says that his ensemble is the perfect complement to Luna Negra.
“We are a modern take on the string quartet,” he says. “A string quartet usually plays classical music from the 18th century.”
Balakrishnan says Turtle Island features a group of classically trained artists who are versed in such modern jazz styles as bebop and who have an appreciation for the influence that Latin music has had on jazz.
“If you are going to play jazz, you have to know about the Afro-Latin influences,” he says.
Turtle Island and Rivera’s 2002 recording, “Danzón,” serves as the basis for this week’s commissioned work, which Luna Negra founder Eduardo Vilaro choreographed in 2009 for the company.
Luna Negra, Turtle Island and D’Rivera currently are on tour with “Danzón.” Vilaro will be present and will participate in post-performance talks at DeBartolo.
The program also includes the samba-influenced “Bate” from 2005 and Ramirez Sansano’s “Flabbergast” from 2002.
Regarding “Danzón,” a reinvention of the traditional Cuban dance form that evolved from a Haitian folk dance called contradance, Balakrishnan admits that playing music for a Luna Negra performance will take Turtle Island out of its comfort zone.
“It’s a challenge for us,” he says, “because there is a lot of improvisation in our music.”
But, Balakrishnan says, the dancers might be inspired by having to improvise with the music.
Balakrishnan says that he is not a dancer, and does not completely understand how the dancers adjust to Turtle Island’s music.
But they do, he says, “and I love it.”