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Turtle Island Quartet Pushes Innovative Chamber Music
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Saturday, October 7, 2023
 

 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

They took their name from Gary Snyder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Turtle Island,” which he in turn derived from the Native American name for the continent of North America.

And, like the Native Americans penchant for storytelling to explain the world, members of the Turtle Island Quartet rely heavily on a story telling component in the way they make music.

Tonight at The Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum the Turtle Island Quartet will present a new work by Native American composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate.

Tate’s piece, “Little Loksi,” is based on the book of the same title by a Chickasaw author who writes about Little Loksi, or Little Turtle,” accompanying his parents on an adventure when bad weather turns him over on his back. It is a wolf that finds woodland animals to help turn hi back over, with the animals celebrating their success with a stomp dance.

“I am very excited as Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate wrote us an incredible piece, and it has been a wonderful experience for us to dig into,” said David Balakrishnan, a violinist with the Turtle Island Quartet. “Working with Jerod, his guidance and vision has given us a doorway into connecting with the rich cultural reservoir that is the Native American tradition. It fits beautifully with our own path as well, and gives us room to grow further as we continue this string quartet journey, now going on 38 years.”

The Turtle Island String Quartet, fresh off a European tour, will perform at 7:30 tonight—Saturday, Oct. 7—at The Argyros in Ketchum. Tickets start at $25, available at https://theargyros.org/calendar/turtle-island-quartet/.

It was violinist David Balakrishnan whose creative vision led to the birth of the Quartet in 1985. Since, the Quartet has forged bold new trends in chamber music for strings, their music encompassing folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, New Age, rock, Latin American and Asian Indian music and even hip-hop.

They won 2006 and 2008 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Crossover album and have earned the praise of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

They’ve collaborated with such artists as guitar legend Leo Kottke, The Manhattan Transfer and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. And, even as they’ve introduced new forays in contemporary experiments, they’ve revived improvisational and compositional chamber traditions that had not been explored by string players for nearly 200 years.

Tonight’s program includes Balakrishnan’s “Little Mouse Jumps,” “Groove in the Louvre, “The Second Wave,” “Darkness Dreaming” and “Island Prayers.”

In addition to Tate’s “Little Loksi,” they will also perform Rhiannon Giddens’ “Pompey Ran Away” and Terence Blanchard’s “Turtle Trajectory.” Several of the pieces on the program were co-commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and other music centers.

“Groove in the Louvre” was inspired, Balakrishnan said, by an afternoon in which he and his wife toured the Louvre Museum, then stumbled upon a guitarist performing across from the museum.

“Here was a taste of the thriving Paris jazz scene of the 1930s in a modern day surrounding,” he said.

“Darkness Dreaming,” by contrast, is derived from an Indian scale believed to have originated in a region of Northern India known as the ancestral homeland of the Roma Gypsies. And “The Second Wave” was inspired by the 2003 tsunami disaster in South Asia that struck the ancestral family homeland of Balakrishnan.

“The composition attempts to convey the majesty of water and the powerlessness and surrender that comes with facing life-changing events,” said Balakrishnan.

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