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The Scarlet & Black

ETHEL uses Faulconer’s space to accent their pieces

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, the atmosphere of the Faulconer Gallery was full of anticipation as audience members waited for the members of ETHEL to appear. Tilly Woodward, the gallery’s curator of Academic and Community Outreach, introduced the members as they stepped out, dressed in coordinated red and black.

The Juilliard classically-trained string quartet Ethel performs an experimental concert in Faulconer Gallery on Tuesday evening. The concert allowed the group and audience to move around the space and experience the music in various locations throughout the gallery - Ben Brewer

“You are invited to experience the space and sound jointly,” Woodward said.

ETHEL is a highly dynamic group that describes itself as post-classical. The masterful string quartet is based in New York City and is comprised of Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Mary Rowell (violin).

Critics have hailed ETHEL as a band that has been radically innovative in blending classical music with experimental rock. They have been praised for their eclectic and zealous performances, touring the world and appearing on stages such as the Venice Biennale, TED, the Sydney Opera House and FIAC in Mexico.

As highly accomplished musicians, the members are eminent in their fields. Dufallo is a composer and improviser, as well as director of the creative music ensemble, Ne(x)tworks. Lawson has toured with Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, Bang on a Can All-Stars and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and was a founding member of the Rossetti and Roerich String Quartets. Farris, a Grammy-nominated arranger, has worked alongside Yo-Yo Ma and was an original Broadway orchestra member for “The Lion King.” A member of the Grammy Award-winning “Tango Project,” Rowell is a frequent electric violin soloist with the New York City Ballet.

On Tuesday evening, ETHEL started off slow, with the song “Fog Tropes,” composed by Ingram Marshall. The notes of the string instruments trembled, suffused with tension and suspense, and grew steadily louder. The musicians were so completely involved that the minute they began to play, the atmosphere in the room changed. Lapses of dramatic silence were followed by powerful returns to sound.

Violinist Cornelius Dufallo focuses intently on his music during the string quartet Ethel's Wednesday night concert in Herrick Chapel - Ben Brewer

The group went on to play a piece by ETHEL’s own Dufallo against the backdrop of a photographic essay of Iowa’s Rochester Cemetary.

“[The] piece that I wrote, called ‘Senescence Music,’ is about autumn … about leaves turning green … the different stages of greenness,” Dufallo said after the concert. After describing the piece, Lawson asked the audience for their reactions.

“It made me go, ‘Wow.’ … All the colors in the photos became so vibrant and alive,” one student said.

Before playing “Quiet Shadows” the members dispersed into separate sections of the gallery, hiding behind the boxes and makeshift walls of the current Faulconer Gallery exhibition. The music resonated through the space—an eerie, musical version of the children’s game, Marco Polo. The song, composed by Vietnam veteran Kimo Williams, describes the wanderings of the mind during guard duty in Vietnam. The mournful and mysterious nature of the piece was underscored by the position of each musician in solitary corners.

The rest of the performance was just as passionate as the beginning—the musicians seemed to enter a musical trance as they played. During “The Blue Room,” composed by Phil Kline and divided into four movements, Dufallo was visibly moved, swaying with his violin. In the next movement, Dufallo and Lawson engaged in a war of nerve-wracking, fast-paced and carefully-timed staccato notes— the eyes of each musician were closed in thrilling concentration. The pieces themselves seemed to overpower each musician, and in turn, the musicians each dominated their instruments with fiery technique.

Throughout the performance, ETHEL demonstrated remarkable versatility. Not restricted to one genre of music, the pieces they played were influenced by not just classical, but jazz and dance styles, among others. For example, Lawson’s original piece, “Soft Shoe’s Revenge,” is blended with the voices of street vendors in Sicily, yelling in an almost-forgotten language.

Such is the character of ETHEL’s classical music—contemporary, modern, experimental, and, above all, passionate.

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    Dorothy from ETHELNov 12, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Dear Lily,

    Thank you for having the courage to write about the emotional and spiritual engagement you saw in us at this concert!! We do feel like vehicles for energies beyond ourselves, from other people or other spheres. The music does take over and we try not to get in its way.

    It is incredibly generous of you, and a real gift to us, that you reflected this experience!!

    All Best, Dorothy.