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David Balakrishnan, violin
Alex Hargreaves, violin
Benjamin von Gutzeit, viola
Malcolm Parson, violoncello
Since its foundation in 1985 the Turtle Island Quartet has established itself as a unique creative ensemble, trailblazing bold new developments in chamber music. Awarded the Grammy for best classical crossover album in 2006 and 2008, Turtle Island combines classical aesthetics with modern American musical styles. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma described the quartet as “groundbreaking, authentic and passionate – a reflection of the most original trends in the music scene today”.
The Turtle Island Quartet – taking its name from Native American mythology – was the brainchild of violinist David Balakrishnan during his studies in San Francisco in the early 1980s. Following his singular musical vision, he founded a quartet that has improvisation at its heart and in which each member also contributes as a composer. Turtle Island continues a tradition that has been lost over time in classical music; after all, 200 years ago performers were also trained in improvisation and composition. Turtle Island applies this philosophy to the present day: each quartet member has received instruction in jazz in addition to their classical studies.
For over 30 years, the Turtles have made excursions into folk, bluegrass, swing, bebop, funk, rock and the music of Latin America and India. The quartet’s discography comprises 15 records including their latest Grammy-nominated CD Confetti Man, released on labels such as Windham Hill, Chandos, Koch, Telarc and Azica. They have also contributed to soundtracks for Hollywood film productions and regularly collaborate with prominent artists including the clarinettist Paquito D’Rivera, the vibraphonist Stefon Harris, guitarists such as Leo Kottke and the Assad Brothers, the vocal ensemble Manhattan Transfer, pianists Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron, Cyrus Chestnut and Ramsey Lewis, the Ying Quartet and singers such as Tierney Sutton and Nellie McKay.
With a unique and constantly evolving repertoire of original compositions and contemporary arrangements, as well as its commitment to education with regular masterclasses, and of course its countless performances, the Turtle Island Quartet is considered one of the most pioneering string quartets from the “New World” in the 21st century.
The members of the Turtle Island Quartet
With a history lasting over three decades, the quartet’s line-up, apart from lead violinist David Balakrishnan, has changed several times. While its basic philosophy as an improvising quartet remains intact, new members with unique musical backgrounds bring fresh impetus to the Turtles’ creative development.
Following his violin and composition studies at UCLA David Balakrishnan, founder of the Turtle Island Quartet, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he made a name for himself as an improviser, performing with the David Grisman Quartet and the legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, among others. With his multifaceted compositional approach, he was nominated twice for a Grammy as an arranger; he has also been nominated for the 2016 awards as a composer. He has received awards and scholarships from organisations such as the League of American Orchestras and the National Endowment for the Arts. Spider Dreams, his composition for string quartet and symphony orchestra, has been widely performed and was recorded by the Turtle Island Quartet and Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. He was commissioned by Chamber Music America to mark the quartet’s 30th anniversary in 2015, through a grant from the renowned Classical Commissioning Program.
The violinist Alex Hargreaves won the National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest, one of the USA’s most distinguished bluegrass competitions, at the age of 15. A few years later he went on tour with the renowned bluegrass band leader Mike Marshall. His many awards include the Jimmy Lyons Scholarship from the Monterey Jazz Festival, which allowed him to attend the elite jazz school the Berklee College of Music. Here, he was mentored by Danilo Perez in the esteemed Berklee Global Jazz Institute Program which intensively promotes talented students. As part of this programme, he went on tour with Perez’s trio and recorded a CD, released in 2014. Since then, the fiddle player has established himself as an authority in his field – the legendary composer and mandolin player David Grisman sees Alex Hargreaves as a “fiddle giant of the 21st century”. He makes regular guest appearances at jazz, country and bluegrass festivals in America and internationally, sharing the stage with musicians such as Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and Darol Anger.
Cellist Malcolm Parson, is at home in both the realms of classical music and jazz, and connects the two worlds with virtuosity and musical imagination. Originally from New Orleans, he graduated from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program and the Berklee College of Music, performing with an orchestra as a soloist for the first time at the age of 14. A long-standing member of the old-time band Carolina Chocolate Drops, who won a Grammy Award in 2011, Malcolm Parson has also shared the stage with musicians such as James Lauderdale, Ron Carter, Terri Lynn Carrington and Dave Liebman. He has composed numerous solo and ensemble works, as well as film music. His work Solitude, which was originally conceived as a solo piece with the choreographer Julia Gleich, was performed by the Forsyth Youth Orchestra in a version for cello and orchestra in 2015.
Benjamin von Gutzeit is one of the few respected jazz violists working today. Born in Bochum in Germany, he was brought up in a musical family: his father is a renowned music teacher, his mother a pianist, and two of his siblings are successful classical musicians. He began playing the viola at the age of four, on a very small violin with viola strings. As a twelve year-old he started taking lessons with the violist of the Orpheus String Quartet, Emile Cantor; competition wins at Jugend Musiziert in 1992 and 1994 resulted in his first tour of Japan. After a short stint as a bass guitarist, he studied under the jazz violinist Andreas Schreiber at the Bruckner University in Linz from 2001. He continued his jazz studies in Amsterdam in 2004 and performed with numerous musicians in the Dutch jazz scene. He moved to New York in 2010 to study in the jazz department of the Manhattan School of Music, where he was the first violist to graduate with a master’s degree. Since then, Benjamin von Gutzeit has worked with world-famous musicians such as the jazz violinist Mark Feldman, electronic virtuoso Matthew Herbert, cellist Ernst Reijseger and the saxophonist Dave Liebman.
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Balakrishnan is as inventive as ever, the music changing both mood and rhythm, then just as suddenly ending in the midst of a phrase. (…) in my view, one of the very finest Turtle Island Quartet records. (…) If you’re a Turtle Island fan, you need to add this one to your collection!
THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE, 15.01.18, © Lynn René Bayley
These four impeccable musicians share Bird’s penchant for expanding parameters and the results of their alchemy are just as golden. (…) The in-house arrangements alone boast of interdisciplinary genius at play, allowing for plenty of improvisation to show the quartet’s combinatory properties.
NYC JAZZ RECORD, 24.02.18, © Tiran Grillo
The Art of the Groove defines a Turtle Island concert- full of driving rhythms, explosive harmonies, and staggering improvisation- all with an unbeatable backbeat. An ensemble and performance with enormous range- enough to fill an evening with well known works by the world’s greatest jazz composers while leaving room for a few memorable surprises.
This incredible program features works by composers such as Miles Davis, JS Bach, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk, Antonio Vivaldi, Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan, Chick Corea, Egberto Gismonti, Paquito D’Rivera, Vince Mendoza, W.A. Mozart, Michael Brecker and Jimi Hendrix. It will also feature Turtle Island ‘resident composer’ David Balakrishnan’s music which integrates jazz, western classical, American fiddle styles, rock, rhythm & blues, Latin-American and Indian classical music.
The Turtle Island Quartet strikes a balance between the emotional immediacy associated with jazz and the brilliant conceptualization associated with classical music. In keeping with the jazz tradition, the program will be announced from the stage during the course of the concert. As in the classical tradition, careful consideration is given to the choice of repertoire. Elements such as genre, length, key, featured soloist and composer, and mood all come into play which results in a monster program celebrating the ensemble’s quarter century of music making.
In this high flying program, the two-time GRAMMY® winning Turtle Island Quartet, pays homage to the incandescent visionary brilliance of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. The genius of his improvisations almost single handedly catapulted jazz from pop style into art music, indelibly altering the musical landscape of America.
Iconic Charlie Parker classics such as Ornithology, KoKo and Dewey Square are juxtaposed with original responses by quartet members, and intertwined with other thematic pieces from the bebop era and beyond such as Sonny Rollins’ Airegin, Bird Calls by Charlie Mingus and Too High by Stevie Wonder. Grammy-nominated composer David Balakrishnan contributes his newly commissioned work, Aeroelasticity: Harmonies Of Impermanence.*
Turtle Island draws its primary focus and musical identity from the individual creative voices of the ensemble who are at home in folk, pop and jazz. It continues to recalibrate the foundational parameters of the traditional string quartet form, in a sense coming from the other direction.
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