Established in New York City in 1998, ETHEL quickly earned a reputation as one of America’s most adventurous string quartets — heirs to the likes of the Kronos Quartet and Soldier String Quartet, and part of a generation of young artists blending uptown, conservatory musicianship with downtown genre-crossing — by playing with the intensity and accoutrements of a rock band. The New York Times has described them as “indefatigable and eclectic,” The New Yorker has deemed them “vital and brilliant.” and Pitchfork has called them “infectiously visceral.” Nearly two decades into their singular career, ETHEL has in turn become seminal in its own right, a path-breaker for countless younger genre-spanning ensembles and a prolific commissioner of new music.
At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos – a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. In addition to premiering 21st century works by a broad range of groundbreaking composers, the quartet creates and tours rich, often multimedia, productions in which community engagement is a key element. ETHEL is currently touring the evening-length ETHEL’s Documerica, inspired by the tens of thousands of images shot as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s decade-long Project Documerica. Launched in 1971, the initiative commissioned photographers across America to document the state of the environment and its impact on society. Directed by OBIE Award-winner Steve Cossin, with projection design by Deborah Johnson, ETHEL’s Documerica features new work by ETHEL members and music the quartet commissioned from other uniquely American artists. The quartet released a Documerica album in 2015. Other current evening-length programs include The River, a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal (album released June 2016); Blue Dress, which pays homage to women making their musical mark on the 21st century; and Circus: Wandering City, which explores the phenomenon of circus through the eyes and insights of people who have created its special thrills and illusions. Commissioned by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (The Ringling) in Sarasota, Florida, the immersive work combines projections of stunning images, films and interviews from the Museum’s archives, the words of circus performers past and present, and original music composed and performed live by ETHEL. Circus: Wandering City makes its world premiere in January 2018—the 250th anniversary of the modern circus—at The Ringling.
ETHEL has collaborated with artists including David Byrne, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Kaki King, Todd Rundgren, Carlo Mombelli, Ursula Oppens, Juana Molina, Tom Verlaine, STEW, Ensemble Modern, Jill Sobule, Dean Osborne, Robert Mirabal, Howard Levy, Simone Sou, Andrew Bird, Iva Bittová, Colin Currie, Thomas Dolby, Jeff Peterson, Oleg Fateev, Stephen Gosling, Jake Shimabukuro, Polygraph Lounge and Vijay Iyer.
The quartet regularly performs works by all of the members of the ensemble, alongside music by Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, David Lang, Dan Friel, Mary Ellen Childs, John King, Raz Masinai, John Zorn, Missy Mazzoli, Anna Clyne, Steve Reich, Kenji Bunch, Don Byron, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Marcelo Zarvos, Pamela Z, Evan Ziporyn and Terry Riley. Over the past five years, ETHEL has premiered 150+ new works, many of them commissioned by the quartet.
ETHEL is the Resident Ensemble at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar and Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University.
ETHEL is Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), and Corin Lee (violin).