Turtle Island Quartet concluded a successful tour across the state of Nebraska for Arts Across Nebraska with Friday night’s performance in Lincoln. Turtle Island Quartet is a string quartet, consisting of two violins, viola, and cello, that tried and true ensemble dating back to the early 1600s. However, the Turtle Island Quartet is not simply recreating music from bygone centuries.
As the audience gathered in Kimball Recital Hall, the stage was set up for the musicians to stand, and the seat for the cellist was up on a platform. Already, everyone could tell they were in for something different. They were not disappointed.
As the concert, dubbed “A Love Supreme: The Music of John Coltrane,” began, Classical music lovers and Jazz lovers of all ages had eyes and ears glued to the stage, fascinated at this music and the ensemble making it. The performers were expressive and wonderfully in-tune with one another. Their facial expressions were priceless—and showed not only their enjoyment of the music, but their close eye contact and communication with each other.
After each piece, a quartet member explained something about it and about the upcoming piece. They told how one piece was actually composed by the quartet working together and was dedicated to Coltrane. “Model Train” could also be thought of as “Modal Train” for a little musical play on words.
David Balakrishnan, first violin for the quartet, composed one piece entitled “Monkey Business” an artistic response to the question “how did we all get here?” After monkeying around, the little phrase at the end clearly closed with a question mark.
The music was fun to listen to and fun to watch. The improvisations, following the inspiration of Coltrane, were at times humorous, charged with emotion, and always virtuosic and riveting. Much of the pieces performed involved complex rhythms and harmonic structures. The quartet at one point referred to themselves as a “bipolar quartet”—as they stretch themselves musically to perform complex Coltrane melodic and motivic material and stretch the music itself into music for string quartet.
Mark Summer, a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet and cellist for the group, announced his composition “Julie-O” that started out as a quartet; only he never wrote all the parts. It has become a popular solo cello piece. The audience was in awe after his performance showcasing just how many sounds can be made on the cello!
This meeting of Classical ensemble and Jazz style was a huge success in Lincoln and the audience came away moved and inspired!
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