Bay Chamber Performing Arts Series

ETHEL brings 'beauty' to the Camden Opera House

Modern string quartet brings unique blend of new music, flawless technique, and rambunctious excitement to the Midcoast
Posted:  Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 12:30am

CAMDEN - The New York-based string quartet ETHEL will perform its new program, "Present Beauty," at the Camden Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. Presented by Bay Chamber Concerts, the performance is part of its ongoing Performing Arts Series running through June and featuring world-renowned artists in  a variety of musical genres including jazz, World, Celtic and classical.

With "Present Beauty," ETHEL brings its own unique blend of new music, flawless technique, and rambunctious excitement to Midcoast music lovers. Nationally recognized as "one of the most exciting quartets around," ETHEL will explore the beauty of new classical music with pieces by a half dozen contemporary composers, in a program that ranges from spontaneity, minimalism, and non-traditional sources to the driving, ethereal lyricism of one of America's greatest living composers, Philip Glass. "Present Beauty" celebrates the concept of finding beauty in the present without beginning or end. 

Bay Chamber's Artistic Director Manuel Bagorro describes ETHEL as an American chamber ensemble that "embodies a new attitude to engaging audiences and commissioning new work." Adds Bagorro, "They constantly innovate through fascinating collaborations and thoughtful programming. Bay Chamber Concerts is absolutely delighted to be presenting a concert by this remarkable quartet as part of our Performing Arts Series."

Uninhibited and innovative in their music making, ETHEL has premiered over 50 new works by contemporary composers over the past three years. The first work in this program, "To Whom It May Concern, Thank You," by Mark Stewart, features a new instrument in the string quartet, a daxaphone, something that looks like a wooden knife and is played with a stringed bow. The next selection shows off a wholly different approach in classical music when the musicians are given 24 musical modules, composed by Terry Riley, to reconstruct in performance however they want. While this idea may sound like heresy in the classical world, it is routine in both jazz and blues, and should be a lot of fun for the audience. By contrast, this will be followed by a suite in four parts arranged from Philip Glass's score for the 2002 movie The Hours.

The second half of the program reinforces ETHEL's eclectic side. Composer Julia Wolfe's piece, "Early that Summer," provides the quartet a chance to stretch its wings, and show off their technical skill and joy in exuberant music making. "Wed," by David Lang, returns the program to the tragic minimalism of The Hours, recalling the true story of a wedding where the bride is on her deathbed and joyousness is surrounded by an encroaching, inevitable darkness.

In the final work, ETHEL takes on a cultural import with a three-part composition by the fast-rising Asian-American composer Huang Rao. Rao's "String Quartet No. 2: The Flag Project," features familiar Buddhist prayer flags and finger cymbals, taking the movements of three flags to construct an other-worldly meditation on Buddhist culture in the Himalayas.

ETHEL has been a post-classical pioneer since it was founded in 1998 and works to fuse diverse traditions into a vibrant sound that resonates with audiences everywhere. The quartet is comprised of Ralph Farris on viola, Dorothy Lawson on cello, and Kip Jones and Tema Watstein on violin. It is interesting to note that Lawson's cello is made of carbon fiber instead of wood, which local boatbuilders will recognize as the new material of choice for strong and lightweight boat hulls and spars. At this concert, guests will be able to hear this remarkable material take flight in music as well.

ETHEL's participation in the winter Performing Arts Series will also include a workshop performance in the pediatric department of Pen Bay Medical Center, as part of Bay Chamber Concerts Community Engagement Program, and a workshop for students and faculty at Bay Chamber Concerts Music School.

Tickets for the concert at the Camden Opera House are $35, $25 for ages 21-35, and $10 for anyone under 21. To purchase tickets, and for more information, call Bay Chamber Concerts at 236-2823 or visit

Event Date: 
Sat, 02/02/2013 - 7:00pm
Event Location: 
Camden Opera House
29 Elm Street
Camden  Maine
Contact Name: 
Bay Chamber Concerts
Contact Phone: 
(207) 236-2823