Its name derived from creation mythology found in Native American Folklore, the Turtle Island Quartet, since its inception in 1985, has been a singular force in the creation of bold, new trends in chamber music for strings. Winner of the 2006 and most recently, the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album, Turtle Island fuses the classical quartet esthetic with contemporary American musical styles, and by devising a performance practice that honors both, the state of the art has inevitably been redefined. Cellist nonpareil Yo-Yo Ma has proclaimed TIQ to be “a unified voice that truly breaks new ground – authentic and passionate – a reflection of some of the most creative music-making today.”
The Quartet’s birth was the result of violinist David Balakrishnan’s brainstorming explorations and compositional vision while completing his master’s degree program at Antioch University West. The journey has taken Turtle Island through forays into folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, new age, rock, hip-hop, as well as music of Latin America and India…a repertoire consisting of hundreds of ingenious arrangements and originals. It has included over a dozen recordings on labels such as Windham Hill, Chandos, Koch and Telarc, soundtracks for major motion pictures, TV and radio credits such as the Today Show, All Things Considered, Prairie Home Companion, and Morning Edition, feature articles in People and Newsweek magazines, and collaborations with famed artists such as clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, guitar legends such as Leo Kottke and the Assad brothers, The Manhattan Transfer, pianists Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron, Cyrus Chestnut and Ramsey Lewis, singers Tierney Sutton and Nellie McKay, the Ying Quartet and the Parsons and Luna Negra Dance Companies.
Another unique element of Turtle Island is their revival of venerable improvisational and compositional chamber traditions that have not been explored by string players for nearly 200 years. At the time of Haydn’s apocryphal creation of the string quartet form, musicians were more akin to today’s saxophonists and keyboard masters of the jazz and pop world, i.e., improvisers, composers, and arrangers. Each Turtle Island member is accomplished in these areas of expertise as well as having extensive conservatory training.
As Turtle Island members continue to refine their skills through the development of repertory by some of today’s cutting edge composers, through performances and recordings with major symphonic ensembles, and through a determined educational commitment, members refine their skills through the development of repertory by some of today’s cutting edge composers, through performances and recordings with major symphonic ensembles, and through a determined educational commitment, the Turtle Island Quartet stakes its claim as the quintessential ‘New World’ string quartet of the 21st century. For a more detailed historical narrative, click here
Brand-new arrangements of cool jazz standards that blur the line between classical and jazz
The Turtle Island Quartet employs their signature groove-based rhythmic techniques to create brand-new arrangements of cool jazz standards that prove that the line between classical music and jazz is much thinner than one might think. In addition to classics by Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Lenny Tristano and others, the quartet will premiere a brand-new work by founder and violinist David Balakrishnan. Called “Rebirth of the Holy Fool,” this work takes cool jazz as a starting point but borrows extensively from bluegrass, classical, jazz and Indian music – a work typical of the Turtle Island Quartet’s style, yet still utterly surprising and unexpected.
Rounding out the program are selections from the Turtle Island Quartet’s latest album, Confetti Man. Confetti Man is an affirmation of the Turtle Island Quartet’s uniquely important role in contemporary music as they continue into their 30th season. On every track, the quartet delights in exploring the ambiguous worlds between different genres, and proves definitively that combining seemingly incompatible styles of music results in something that is much more than the sum of its parts.
With special guest pianist Cyrus Chestnut
The extraordinary jazz pianist, Cyrus Chestnut, and the GRAMMY® winning Turtle Island Quartet are back together, displaying their formidable collective virtuosity. Making soulful and sweet connections that delve deeply into the jazz and classical traditions, the quintet embraces a range of composers on this brand new program- from Jelly Roll Morton to Thelonious Monk.
Back when sheet music was the means of musical transmission, in the hands of composers like Debussy and Stravinsky, ragtime found its way into the classical repertoire of Europe. But in the first part of the 20th century in America, the giant of ragtime and jazz was Jelly Roll Morton. An obvious candidate for exploration is Morton’s nod to his New Orleans Creole roots, Turtle Twist, an example of his trademark ’spanish tinge’ style that was to reverberate throughout all the periods of jazz that followed. Monk himself cites Morton as one of his main influences, and his timeless composition Blue Monk, with its ragtime rhythms and bent harmonies, was one of his personal favorites. Given a more modern reading is Joplin’s evocative Pineapple Rag, which provides the quintet an opportunity to show off the swing style intended by the composer.
Turtle Island and Cyrus Chestnut draw a blazing and virtuosic line from the early roots of jazz directly to Monk, one of the geniuses of the modern jazz era.
Turtle Island Plays The Music Of John Coltrane
Given the proper conditions, a work of art can transcend both genre and era, claiming its rightful place in the universality of human expression that justifies the very existence of mankind. Such is the case of John Coltrane’s jazz epiphany, A Love Supreme. Recorded four decades ago at a time when the country was deeply troubled by issues of race and war, Trane’s music was a personal statement of redemption and salvation that struck a chord in the hearts of millions, becoming one of the most enduring jazz recordings of all time.
The string quartet form itself continues to thrive in the 21st century in no small part due to its impressive history of similar achievements in its two hundred year old canon. In exploring John Coltrane’s musical legacy, TI continues its own tradition of employing the string quartet form to shed new light on the timeless joy and beauty contained in the greatest music of the American jazz masters. The concert program will present an in-depth look at this landmark recording in the greater context of the music that preceded and followed, a time many consider to be the last great evolutionary period of jazz.
high flying new program, a world premiere
Curated by San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music in partnership with the Presidio Trust.
Aeroelasticity: Harmonies Of Impermanence, by David Balakrishnan***
- Lonesome George
- Flutter Point
Dedicated to Dr. A.V. Balakrishnan
My father loved his mathematics. His eyes would light up when he got to work on a juicy problem, squiggling away on his yellow notepads, his chosen workplace often being the bathroom, where he could sit undisturbed for hours on end, in total and oblivious concentration. “Aeroelasticity” is the subject matter and title of his last book; he passed away in March 2015. At the time of its publication in 2012, he was a spry 90 years young and still actively teaching as professor of engineering at UCLA, a position he held since the early 1960’s. My copy came with his grumbled complaint that the world no longer cared what was in between zero and one.
His dreamy rebellious musician son, having grown up deeply averse to the taste of a life trapped in the seemingly heartless monotony of numbers, I have zilch understanding of the hieroglyphics that comprise 95% of his writings. But I do resonate with the title. Simply said, the book intends to make meaningful and useable sense out of the incredibly complex patterns that continually changing air currents create when they interact. I see that as mirroring my own lifelong pursuit of composing stylistically integrated music drawing from apparently disparate musical genres and dialects, sifting for universal congruities buried beneath the cultural overlay. At a still deeper level it echoes the chaotic seeming turbulence of my life’s journey as I try to make sense and usefulness of that as well.
Some words on the individual movements:
The secular usages of the term Backlash are of course commonly found in many areas of life, from politics to plumbing. The music of this movement for me has a lurching quality reflective of the way the term is used in engineering technical journals, often applied to the seizing up of gears in a mechanism, or, specific to the topic at hand, flight anomalies of jets buffeted by turbulent air currents.
The last surviving Pinta Island giant tortoise of the Galapagos, Lonesome George was twice induced to mate, first with females from a neighboring island, and then, when that didn’t take, with females of a related subspecies from Espanola Island. Which also didn’t work, and so when Lonesome George finally died (estimated to be over 100 years old at the time of his passing), his species died with him. Jazz primitivism a la Darius Milhaud, morphing into a choleric bluesy little ditty in waltz time, then a bit of fun at old George’s expense; bluegrass fiddle hoedown grooves depicting the two bungled procreating attempts. After the second and more lively mating episode (exotic turtle beauties of a different breed!), a mournful Count Basie-esque tag leads back to the main melody, inevitably sinking back down into the primordial ooze that ever awaits.
Pralaya is a Sanskrit word often translated as dissolution, or death. In the Samkhya philosophy of Hinduism it is indicative of the periods in between cycles of creation when the universe arrives at total rest. I find evoked in this music the sweet sadness of final farewells, as well as an opaqueness that leaves fertile ground for emergent tendrils of life to sprout anew.
When a Flutter Point is reached in the interactions of air currents on a plane, any further change leading towards cessation would result in a crash. The music dances on the razor’s edge of a cataclysmic pileup, one that never materializes, at least not in the way expected. And so it begins—again…
All things are impermanent
They arise and they pass away
To be in harmony with this truth
Brings great happiness
Annica chant (ancient Buddhist prayer)
*** This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.