Dorothy Lawson has played cello with ETHEL since its inception. The contemporary classic quartet does not see much difference between Bach and Lizzo.
“What we feel the conversation around music suffers from is the effort to draw boundaries that define styles exclusively, rather than describing the rainbow-like continuity between them, in all its dazzling beauty, intelligence and diversity,” Lawson said.
Ralph Farris, viola player, says they only perform music they adore.
“We get to share that love with new people every time we get on stage,” Farris said. “It’s a pretty simple formula that comes down to, basically, you gotta love your job.”
With each piece, they breathe in new life.
“ETHEL music sings strong, it grooves hard and it’ll break your heart,” Farris said.
They even get to write some of their own music.
“Playing one’s own compositions is a tremendous change if you’ve been trained to adhere strictly to the printed medium from a distant or bygone creator,” Lawson said. “Suddenly, there is no greater authority than yourself, no act of deference required.”
Music is never one set thing, it’s changing all the time.
“ETHEL welcomes all sounds and styles into our world, and we celebrate the musical vernacular,” Lawson said. “All in service of an open-eared, living art.”
The daring ensemble comes to The Argyros Friday, Sept. 30, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $30-$40. This is the first night of the Performing Arts Center’s Fall String Quartet Festival.
On Oct. 1, at 10 a.m., ETHEL will sit down for a roundtable discussion with fellow chamber group the Telegraph Quartet, who perform Saturday night. This event is free.
“We hope to share experiences with the Telegraph Quartet that might illuminate how time and place influence the musical environment, or perhaps, how the musical environment reflects its time and place, right up to the present moment,” Lawson said. “We’d be especially interested to learn how they have designed and generated their various composer collaborations.”
Since its inception, ETHEL has released nine feature recordings, performed as guests on 40-plus albums, won a Grammy with jazz legend Kurt Elling and performed in 14 countries and 49 states.
They tell stories through their music, whether sourcing inspiration from different cultures’ ceremonies or incorporating photographs and videos.
Still, ETHEL’s music has a timeless quality which transcends the spoken word.
“All the time we are in deep conversation with each other, with our eyes, with our arms, with the kick of a leg. And it all stems from listening. Our ears are always open; they are the key to it all,” Farris said. “Collaboration is making space for others to shine and to welcome new journeys, new conversation, new magic. It is listening. And it is at the very core of our work as connectors and community-builders.”
Members frequently surprise one another.
“The spirit of collaboration and mutual respect that makes our ecosystem so productive and sustainable, also makes us keenly aware of the many gifts each brings to the party and how the synergy between us makes better outcomes for all,” Lawson said. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to not limit my colleagues by guessing what their contributions will be.”
Farris’s parents encouraged him to get into music from a young age.
“Evidently I was singing in the crib,” Farris said. “It’s all I’ve ever known.”
ETHEL is in it for the long haul.
“As a founding member of the quartet, I am eager to contribute to its future life,” Lawson said. “One of our very first goals was to establish the organization as a creative culture, beyond the interim personnel. I look forward to the next generation building on our legacy.” ￼
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