Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Ethel is a contemporary string quartet playing in a similar experimental style of their better known contemporaries and peers, the Kronos Quartet.
Native American musician, bandleader, flutist and percussionist Robert Mirabal is better known to the public, largely because of his electrified and triumphant PBS-TV special, “Music from a Painted Cave,” which aired over a decade ago. That live concert of Native American rock and pop presented a younger Mirabal aggressively fronting an outfit full of drumbeats and screaming guitars.
But at his recent concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, the multi-talented Grammy-winning Mirabal was going back to his tribal (Pueblo) roots, both compositionally and as a performer. It was definitely going to be an acoustic evening this time out.
The Ethel quartet – featuring Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Jennifer Choi (violin) and Ralph Farris (viola) – started the ball rolling with several spirited and mildly dissonant compositions before Mirabal entered the picture to thunderous applause.
Their collaborative ventures in both the first and second half of the program – including the headlining, “Music of the Sun” – were both awe-inspiring ventures in their delicate dynamics and haunting beauty. More akin to New Age music than classical, the tunes told their own story to a small but mesmerized audience.
The partnership between the quartet and Mirabal took on a different tone in the second set’s compositional collaborations. There was a more playful and spirited approach, and the music was marked with oodles of wind instrument-soloing by Mirabal and strong dynamics from Ethel.
Besides this collaboration in Troy and a limited multi-city tour of this repertoire, the pairing of Ethel with guest artist Mirabal hasn’t yet been recorded for a future CD release. It’s a shame because the music is extraordinarily good and certainly worth including in anyone’s collection.