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ETHEL speaks a language for all

WANT TO GO?

ETHEL

WHERE: Carnegie Hall, 105 Church St., Lewisburg

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: $12 to $24

INFO: 304-645-7917 or www.carnegiehallwv.com

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's something awkward about calling the members of ETHEL just a string quartet. On the one hand, that's exactly what they are: a gang of four Julliard-trained string musicians. On the other, they're a lot more.

"It's interesting how language draws clear lines around things," cellist Dorothy Lawson said.

But really, it's not so clear.

Individually, each member of the quartet has a pretty impressive resume. They've played with the New York Philharmonic, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Miro String Quartet and the orchestra for Broadway's "The Lion King."

Together, they've played with rock and jazz musicians, performed avant-garde classical pieces and were the house band for a 2010 TED conference. Their music goes all over the place; they could be a jazz ensemble, a folk group, maybe even a rock band.

"Music is a language," Lawson said. "As long as you're open to different dialects, you can connect to people in all kinds of ways."

ETHEL will be connecting with folks Saturday at Lewisburg's Carnegie Hall as part of the Lewisburg Literary Festival. The quartet will perform an arrangement celebrating the concepts of presence and continuity in beauty, which comes from Philip Glass's score for the film "The Hours."

It's meant to be a thought-provoking kind of concert. ETHEL is about provoking thought, encouraging contemplation and pushing boundaries.

"For ETHEL, we've developed a two-part artistic life," Lawson said. "Part of that is on stage. We love bringing audiences to this fabulous, bright, new creative area that we live in, but we also spend significant parts of each year looking for ways to collaborate with more creative voices."

The mission is about using music to bring people together, she said, but it's also taking the opportunity to learn more about themselves as artists and find new ways to apply their classical skills to explore music differently.

Sometimes that's pretty easy.

The quartet is headquartered in New York City. With its vibrant musical culture and almost manic creative energy, finding interesting avenues to explore as a string quartet isn't always hard. Just being who they are, living where they do and knowing a few people has brought the musicians some unusual gigs, including an opera with rockers Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson.

"Todd has a fascination with a form of opera," she said. "He had written an opera for two male voices."

A presenter in New York recommended Joe Jackson as the second voice, and maybe opening the opera with a string quartet. Jackson said he knew just the quartet for the job.

They'd met through violinist Mary Rowell, one of the founding members of ETHEL.

"She was on every album of Joe's for 10 years," Lawson said.

Rowell retired from ETHEL in 2011, and the quartet has remained friends with Jackson since her departure. The group appeared on Jackson's latest record, "The Duke," released in late June. It's an interpretation of music by jazz icon Duke Ellington.

The members of ETHEL see themselves as part of a larger musical movement, a shift toward multicultural music, which blends different styles and genres to make a new, more inclusive form. They don't think of themselves as the beginning of the movement, but as another wave of pioneers trying to build on what came before and find something new.

"There are kids coming into college now that already have the skills we started with," Lawson said. "I think we're really grateful to be among the seniors in the field now."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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