Turtle Island Quartet


Floriane Schroetter


+49 30 214 594-210

General Management

cr Broussard photo


David Balakrishnan, violin
Gabriel Terraciano, 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 18records, released on labels such as Windham Hill, Chandos, Koch, Telarc and Azica. Their latest release Bird’s Eye View (February 2018, Azica Records) was critically acclaimed: These four impeccable musicians share Bird’s penchant for expanding parameters and the results of their alchemy are just as golden. (NYC JAZZ RECORD, 24.02.18, Tiran Grillo) 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, the trumpet player Terence Blanchard 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.  

Originally from Portland, Maine, Gabriel Terracciano is a violinist and composer currently residing in Brooklyn. Classically trained from a young age, Terracciano has spent his career focusing on playing the violin in a variety of non-classical genres, including jazz, bluegrass, rock, and hip hop, among others.  He has played both internationally and throughout the U.S., including at the 2018 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. His most recent awards and honors include Third Prize in the 2018 Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition and Finalist in the 2018 Freshgrass Fiddle Competition. He holds undergraduate degrees from Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music, as well as a Master's degree from New York University in Jazz Performance. He has studied with Tanya Kalmanovitch, Don Doane, Cecil McBee, John Scofield, Ari Hoenig, and Rob Thomas, among others.

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.

2020/21 season

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With the latest album, "Bird's Eye View"– their sixteenth! – Turtle Island Quartet once again lays down captivating, even breathtaking music. [...] With lightning-fast surprising twists, fantastically subtle strings and incredible rhythmic precision, they fly through the musical landscapes, taking off into spectacular loops. Powerful, passionate and most of all, playful!
BR KLASSIK, CD-tip, 30.05.18, © Ursula Adamski-Störmer

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

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

Now they are getting big again. That’s great news. (…)Highly addictive music, and the living is easy. They need to come again.”
MAINPOST, 09.07.17

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Programme Suggestions

Bird's Eye View

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.

The Art of The Groove

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.

Snakes & Ladders

Works by Johann Sebastian Bach, David Balakrishnan, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, and others

This sinuous concert program takes its name from the popular board game (nowadays commonly known as "Chutes And Ladders") which originated in ancient India that puts one through a chaotic journey of climbing up a ladder and sliding down the back of a snake while attempting to be the first to reach the top rung—a metaphor for the ups and downs of the game of life. Shifting quickly within a cornucopian array of jazz styles and beyond, the music is meant to evoke 'rajas guna,' one of the three categories of states of being in Hindu philosophy, typified by constantly changing passions such as fury, longing, terror, exhilaration, despair and ecstatic bliss.

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