Ethel | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Though Kronos Quartet's world-in-a-blender approach has yielded some dodgy cocktails over the years, you have to give them credit for helping to break down the walls of the classical music ghetto: just about every genre of music on the planet borrows freely from others, so why shouldn't serious composers have the freedom to do the same? Kronos also paved the way for the New York string quartet Ethel--though there's no confusing the two ensembles. Violinists Mary Rowell and Todd Reynolds, violist Ralph Farris, and cellist Dorothy Lawson have conservatory chops and eclectic resumes; as a group they've recorded with Joe Jackson and Don Byron, and individual members have gigged with the Silos, Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, Reba McEntire, the Steve Reich Ensemble, and Roger Daltrey. On their eponymous debut album on Cantaloupe Records (a label established by members of the New York new-music ensemble Bang on a Can) they bring their catholic sensibilities to vanguard works by contemporary composers on the far fringes of the classical tradition. John King's "Sweet Hardwood" is a dramatic transfiguration of the blues: wildly careening double-stops suggest dirty slide guitar and curling microtonal solo lines evoke the pleading wail of a Delta harp. One section of Phil Kline's multipart "The Blue Room & Other Stories" conjures a dark, glacial river; a subsequent movement masterfully incorporates elements of techno, as Lawson plucks a propulsive cello line and the others drop staccato tone bursts on top of it. In its Chicago concert debut the group will perform both King and Kline's pieces as well as works by Evan Ziporyn, Julia Wolfe, and the Finnish folk fiddle group JPP. Sunday, February 22, 3 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. Also: Saturday, February 21, 3 PM, Borders Books & Music, 1144 Lake, Oak Park, 708-386-6927; and Monday, February 23, 12:30 PM, Borders Books & Music, 150 N. State, 312-606-0750.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steve J. Sherman.

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