Monday, November 28, 2011

Broccoli or Romanesco?

Yes, Del Sol did in fact recently get compared to broccoli.

"For a lot of people, seeing them for the first time is like discovering they like broccoli"

Got us to thinking. First, if we were going to be an vegetable with questionable reputation - would it in fact be broccoli? Or kale (as Mark Capelle secretly shared with us as what he thought he compared us to), or carrots, or beets, or say, romanesco. Romanesco - a cross between a broccoli and cauliflower with that same mixture of taste that is - seriously - one of the coolest looking vegetables out there. Hooray for fractal vegetation. Or, as some may say, Martian food. How are we in fact like romanesco? Most people don't even KNOW what it is and probably haven't heard about it. Once they see it, they are shocked and amazed at how wonderful and mysterious it is. Once they taste it, they are in love. Much better and way cooler than broccoli. What's your vote?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Toyos - Live Music is Important!

For many years now, a staple in Del Sol's musical diet has Gabriela Lena Frank's "Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout." The piece, as Gabriela describes, has 6 movements, each inspired by either a different instrument or a different story from her mother's country of Peru. The first movement is entitled "Toyos" - the toyos are the largest in the panpipe family.

What strikes me is how different imagining what something sounds like or feels like versus how what the experience is like in person! While working on the piece, we constantly experiment for getting the "breathiness" of the panpipe in the viola sound and the right kind of "spit" in the pizzicato of the three remaining instruments. In our heads we "knew" roughly how the instrument worked and what sounds we were going for. But the first time that we actually heard live musicians playing toyos - everything changed and became so much clearer. We returned to rehearsal excited and inspired, with a whole new sound world in our ears and then we came up with new ways to replicate those sounds.

I can imagine it is the same feeling of listening to music only ever on CD or the computer, and for the first time walking into a hall and hearing music it in person. There is never any replication of the sound waves that rock your ear drums and your body: truly it's the beauty and mystery of live music.

We are really excited to be collaborating currently with Gabriela and a local Andean ensemble "Chaskinakuy." Gabriela is exploring how she can innovate by combining the sounds of the two ensembles, and the process is entirely interesting, fun, and challenging. For us, to experience up close and personal, the actual instruments - it really changes everything.

Enjoy this video of the toyos - but be sure to check out the collaboration "Incan Insights" - in several installments over the next year in San Francisco Bay Area.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Marathon Concert? Or Marathon & A Concert?

So the trend in the Bay Area has been towards creating marathon-style concerts. One day, lots of groups, lots of music. It's an exciting event for all to attend. A few great events you can keep your eyes peeled for throughout the year: the Switchboard Music Festival, Hot Air Music Festival, the Garden of Memory (on the summer solstice), and of course San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music "Chamber Music: Live & Free." This year, the 4th Live & Free is at the De Young Museum on Sunday October 16. It's going to be a exciting day packed full of a variety of wonderful performers, including, of course, the Del Sol String Quartet.

However, Del Sol, in the spirit of marathon concerts, decided to take it one step further. Kathryn Bates Williams, cellist extraordinaire, is actually going to run a marathon before performing at Live & Free. In the early morning hours, she will be seen prancing her way around the entire city of San Francisco, as part of the Nike Women's Marathon, before landing herself back at the De Young, to play some adreneline-pumped performances of Lou Harrison, Elena Kats-Chernin, and Gabriela Lena Frank.

Crazy? Stupid? Totally awesome? Who knows. It wasn't exactly on purpose- Williams had committed to the marathon only hours before finding out the date to Live & Free. Live & Free is such an important community event that the quartet decided to go ahead and participate. We'll let you know how it all turns out - it will only happen with the backstage support of several people who will get mentioned later one. It will be exciting no matter what happens, even if Williams has to limp to get onstage. Thankfully, as the cellist, she's the only one who gets to sit in performance!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


That looks like the appropriate amount of music & scores to be out in rehearsal, yes?!

The quartet recently took a much needed 3 day retreat into the woods. Why is a retreat so important? For three days, we each removed ourselves from our normal environment with its constraints, responsibilities and demands (in addition to city noise!) and threw ourselves into long days of quartet rehearsing and the occasional blackberry picking. It gave us time to prepare for the start of this season as well as brainstorm lots of ideas for the coming years. Often times in "modern society" we want to squeeze the most into the smallest amount of time - in an hour meeting, we often are supposed to not only articulate our artistic dreams and ideas but figure out how to implement them perfectly as well. These days gave us some beautiful space to just let ideas - both musical and practical - sit and ferment. The lack of internet access turned out to be a nice way to unplug and connect with each other (even if certain members of the quartet were eager to check their e-mail!) The quiet beauty of the area, the star-filled night skies, and the plentiful pears, apples, and berries made the whole quartet feel incredibly blessed and rested at the end of those days! Until the next retreat.....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How do you spell Chautauqua?

After being invited to perform at the Chautauqua Institution in June (as part of the Monday afternoon Logan Chamber Music Series), it took some of the quartet several months to finally figure out how to actually spell Chautauqua. Perhaps it was due revenge when the prelude article to our performance in the Chautauquan Daily accidentally ran a picture of former cellist Hannah Addario-Berry in the article. (Obviously, they must have mistaken the red-hair!)

After 16 hours of travel - by various motorized vehicles and several different planes - we arrived in the serene Chautauqua the night before our performance. After resting a little - and sound checking a lot - we got ready to perform at 4p.m. with Gabriela Lena Frank's Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, Ronald Bruce Smith's Quartet No. 3, Chinary Ung's Spiral X, and Reza Vali's Nayshaboorák.

sound checking for Ung & Smith
The concert was well-received, although it seemed that this music was quite novel to many of the audience members. We were so grateful to have 2 of our composers with us - Ronald Bruce Smith and Reza Vali!

Ron in the hall sound-checking

We were graced in the audience with the presence of the newest member of the Cleveland Symphony, Katherine Bormann, who brought us many well wishes.

All in all, it was a great trip. Charlton got to rekindle fond memories from his summer spent in Chautauqua 20 years previous and show everyone around to the old haunts. Then it was back to San Francisco for Quartetfest Session 2!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Springtime in NY

New York City was a particularly beautiful place for Del Sol’s whirlwind tour this past April. For the five magical days, the city lavished us with spring colors as we explored mostly brand-new venues and many enthusiastic audiences from Brooklyn, to Downtown, to the Upper West Side.

On the first night of our tour, we converged at the avant-garde CafĂ© Orwell in Brooklyn wiith Amy X Neuburg, playing for a lively young crowd . The next night we played at the historical Gershwin Hotel as part of Vicky Chow's Contagious Sounds, a new music series focusing on adventurous contemporary artists and composer. The concert was in an intimate, old and lustrous ballroom - while it was only one third of its original size, it is definitely an acoustical “find” in Manhattan.

A third concert took place the following afternoon-Easter Sunday-in the beautiful penthouse home of Jonathan Vincent, where some young fans were dyeing elaborate Easter eggs before the concert. There were spectacular panoramic views and pictures of his late grandfather, famed singer Theodore Upmann, everywhere you turned.

For our final concert, we played closing night of the Cutting Edge New Music Festival curated by Victoria Bond at Symphony Space. Composers Reza Vali, Ben Johnston, Ronald Bruce Smith and Amy X Neuberg participated in person to introduce their piece in a lively dialogue with Bond. (Amy X additionally performed with us as part of her first string quartet!) Despite the physical absence of 85-year-old Ben Johnston (at home in Wisconsin), we were able to include him in the concert via Skype video, which proved to be quite delightful. Despite the difficulties of Ben’s meticulous and complex use of "just intonation," with great patience and perseverance, we made the piece our own to an enthusiastic New York reception.

A (non) Winter Trip to DC

Is it almost summer already? Del Sol is a bit seasonally confused because, in February, we travelled to a balmy 70 degree Washington DC to perform two engaging all-Asian programs. Our performance of works by six composers at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery featured Kui Dong's “Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter Suite” for string quartet and traditional Chinese instruments - this concert was in conjunction with the the exhibition "Seasons: Chinese Landscapes" at the museum. Guest artists playing pipa, sheng, guzheng, and Chinese strings and winds accompanied us with the composer participating, and the Washington Post reviewer praised the work for "exceptional beauty and imagination." Three of the six featured composers attended the performance (Kui Dong, Reza Vali and Koji Nakano), further captivating the audience in a delightful evening, despite any mishaps due to the DC metro shut-down the Smithsonian stop. Sadly, post-concert, after-museum-hour photos in the gallery did not pan out!

The following day, we performed the entrancing string quartet version of Koji Nakano’s Time Song III at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre, sponsored by the S & R Foundation. In this piece, we evoke the spirits of transfigured souls by shouting and singing while playing our instrumental line. This distinct and powerful music provided many interesting conversations later that evening, at reception hosted by the foundation - few people had ever heard music like it!