Two of the most adventurous ensembles in contemporary American music, The Turtle Island String Quartet and the all-sibling Ying Quartet, will perform selections from their genre-defying collaboration 4 + Four (Telarc Classics) at Edison Theatre.
The one-night-only concert will begin at 8 p.m. today as part of the Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series.
In addition, Turtle Island will present an all-ages matinee performance of The Art of the Groove, a cross-cultural musical journey ranging from Vivaldi to Jimi Hendrix, as part of the ovations! for young people series at 11 a.m. Jan. 21.
4 + Four was recently nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Crossover Classical Album category. The Grammy Awards ceremony will be broadcast Feb. 8 on CBS.
The piece explores the intersection of jazz improvisation and string quartet traditions through a variety of classic and original works.
The program will open with the Ying Quartet performing Felix Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 44, No. 3, a bravura composition whose quick, spontaneous-seeming themes and motifs — particularly the lighthearted scherzo movement — demand an exceptional level of craft.
Following individual selections from Turtle Island (to be announced from the stage), the two quartets will join forces for Darius Milhaud’s 1923 ballet The Creation of the World, one of the first concert pieces to combine jazz and classical music, followed by Julie-O, an original work for two cellos by Turtle Island cellist Mark Summer.
The program will continue with Mara’s Garden of False Delights, an original three-part suite by David Balakrishnan, Turtle Island’s violinist and principal composer.
Based on an episode from the life of the Buddha — in which Mara, the king of demons, seeks to deflect enlightenment with a parade of pleasures — the piece highlights the diverse strengths of each player through a complex interweaving of jazz, classical and Indian elements.
The program will conclude with Variations on an Unoriginal Theme, an original work (despite its title) by Turtle Island violinist Evan Price. The piece functions as both a brief history of the string quartet and as a good-natured “battle of the bands.”
Listeners are invited to cheer their favorite group as the opening, Haydnesque theme morphs into an Irish jig, a Mendelssohn scherzo, a gospel shout, a delicate Ravelian tableau, a Cuban mambo and even a bit of James Brown funk.
Founded in 1985, Turtle Island helped pioneer “alternative” chamber music and was the first classically trained string ensemble to make extensive use of jazz improvisation in its recordings and live concerts. The group takes its name from Native American folklore — “Turtle Island” refers to the North American continent — and consists of Balakrishnan, Price and Summer (cello) as well as violist Mads Tolling.
Over the years, Turtle Island has pioneered a unique repertoire that ranges from bebop standards to jazz-inspired “re-compositions” of classical works to American “vernacular” styles such as folk, bluegrass, hip-hop and rock.
In addition, the group has developed a large catalog of original compositions and recorded more than a dozen CDs, including Art of the Groove (2000) and Danzon (2002).
No less a contemporary than Yo Yo Ma praises Turtle Island as “a unified voice that truly breaks new ground — authentic and passionate — a reflection of some of the most creative music-making today.”
Natives of Chicago, the Ying siblings — cellist David, violist Phillip and violinists Janet and Timothy — began their musical career in 1992 in the farm town of Jesup, Iowa (population 2,000), as the first artists to participate in the National Endowment for the Arts Chamber Music Rural Residencies Program.
Now Quartet in Residence at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, the Yings have performed at major festivals and venues around the world and established themselves as one of America’s premier young ensembles.
In 1999, they launched LifeMusic, a commissioning project designed to produce a distinctively American string quartet repertoire, which to date has produced almost a dozen works by contemporary American composers.
At the same time, the Yings honor their own heritage through Musical Dim Sum, a series of programs featuring short works by Chinese-American composers and commissioned works by composers of Chinese background.
Edison Theatre programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis.
Tickets for today’s OVATIONS! Series performance are $28; $24 for seniors and WUSTL faculty and staff; and $18 for students and children. Tickets for the Jan. 21 matinee are $7.
Tickets are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call 935-6543.