Spektral Quartet, Monday at 8:00 PM
This week the University of Chicago-based ensemble, the Spektral Quartet, is coming to Live from WFMT. They are relatively new, founded in 2010, and are fast becoming one of the city’s most celebrated chamber groups. Violist Doyle Armbrust offers a little background on the ensemble:
Most Quartets have a good story about what brought them together; what’s yours?
A stack of string quartets and a six-pack of craft beer is what brought us together! We became aware of an opening for the ensemble-in-residence position at a small college nearby, and, having played together in different pairings as freelancers, we decided to give it a shot. Russ would grab a handful of quartets from the Northwestern music library, one of us would procure the sudsy libations, and we’d spend the evening with Haydn and Schubert. The college never ended up holding an audition for its residency, so we booked a concert date at Preston Bradley Hall and never looked back. Given the inherent challenges of preparing chamber music, I’m sorry to say that the beer part of the equation was quickly jettisoned.
What does “Spektral” mean?
The idea behind the name “Spektral” arrived by way of “spectrum,” rather than “specter.” Also, “Atari Teenage Riot” was already taken. We see the string quartet as a prism of sorts. Sheet music is black dots and lines on a white page, and it requires an ensemble to refract or transmit these markings into color.
There are already a number of string quartets in the world; is it hard to establish an identity?
I don’t believe our purpose has ever been to differentiate ourselves from existing quartets so much as to discover what it is exactly that we want communicate with our audience, and where. We love new music, so our programs are usually 50% new commissions or scores written in the last decade or two. We love nerding out about music with our friends, so we play in a venue like the Empty Bottle where the audience feels free to interact with us (and vice versa) during the show. We take risks and feel most inspired when our audience is close enough to exchange a smile, so we often wrap their chairs around us in a tight circle at shows. We value inclusivity over exclusivity in classical music, so we launch projects like Mobile Miniatures (40 composers commissioned to write us mobile phone ringtones which are then made available for download) which spreads the genre’s reach into everyday life. If the end result is something different from what you might expect at a string quartet concert, it’s because you are seeing music presented exactly the way we love to present it, not because we are trying to be different.
How do you entertain yourselves when you’re on tour?
We’re currently deep in the process of developing a series of alter-egos based largely on the idiosyncrasies of historic performers. We’ll let you know when Comedy Central makes its million-dollar offer…
On Monday’s live broadcast, you’ll have a composer in tow. Who is it?
We’re bringing one of our favorite composers along with us, Chris Fisher-Lochhead. As a violist, Chris possesses a preternatural ability in writing for strings, and his piece “Dig Absolutely” was one of the first new-music scores we tackled as a quartet. We love it (and him) so much, in fact, that we included the piece on our debut album, Chambers, which is coming out on October 26th. What’s he like? He’s scary-smart, but the kind of smart that you want to corner at a party and spend all night discussing Sciarrino and horror movies with.
More on the Spektral Quartet.