Commemorating 25 years of Turtle Island
By: Georgia Rowe 12/05/10
Special to The Examiner
Since founding the Turtle Island Quartet, violinist David Balakrishnan has led the group on a wide-ranging musical journey through folk, jazz, Latin, bluegrass and other repertoires where traditional string quartets fear to tread.
This month, though, he is returning to his roots, celebrating Turtle Island’s 25th anniversary with a new CD and a concert featuring the music of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
Presented by San Francisco Performances, Friday’s program at Herbst Theatre will include music from the quartet’s “Have You Ever Been … ?,” an album of Hendrix tunes and Balakrishnan’s original compositions. The group will return to Herbst on Saturday for a family matinee.
Hendrix is a primary source, says Balakrishnan, even as Haydn and Mozart were for string players in the 18th century.
“He was a huge influence,” says the violinist, who grew up in Los Angeles and now resides in the East Bay. “Hendrix was a blues guitarist the way Charlie Parker was a saxophonist — he took it so much further than anyone thought was possible.”
Balakrishnan was a teen when Hendrix released his landmark album, “Electric Ladyland.”
“I was already playing guitar,” he recalls. “Later I switched to violin, but when I look back now, that was the moment when I got inspired. I was so excited, so full of joy about the way he was playing. That was what pushed me to keep going down this road, to keep playing music.”
Balakrishnan founded Turtle Island in 1985 and immediately began exploring music from every corner of the globe. Still, he says he’s always owed a debt to Hendrix.
“You mature, and you become what you are, but it all goes back to that,” he says.
Turtle Island — Balakrishnan, second violinist Mads Tolling, violist Jeremy Kittel and cellist Mark Summer — will be joined at Herbst by jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut and acclaimed mandolinist Mike Marshall.
The program isn’t set, says Balakrishnan, but it’s likely to include Hendrix songs from the new CD, such as “All Along the Watchtower.” It will also include Balakrishnan’s latest original work, “Tree of Life.” He thinks it may be the best thing he’s written.
“It goes as far as I can reach, compositionally,” he says. “And yet, when I listen to it, I can still hear that kid who fell in love with Hendrix.”
IF YOU GO
Turtle Island Quartet
25th Anniversary Concert
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $30 to $50
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Tickets: $10 to $15
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Contact: (415) 392-2545