22 MarETHEL: Heavy Composer Conversations
ETHEL is gearing up for its upcoming album release of “Heavy” (April 24th) – a power-packed, sonic snapshot of the group’s life in New York City. Recorded over an 18-month period by Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Mary Rowell (violin), and Ralph Farris (viola), Heavy features works by eight celebrated contemporary composers: Don Byron, John Halle, Julia Wolfe, John King, Raz Mesinai, David Lang, Kenji Bunch, and Marcelo Zarvos.
As we count down the days till April 24th, ETHEL presents a series of composer conversations. The second installment features Julia Wolfe – Bang on a Can founder whose music combines minimalist techniques–repetitive rhythms, sustained harmonies–with a rock sensibility.
Heavy Composer Conversation w/ JULIA WOLFE
ETHEL: How and when did you first encounter ETHEL?
JW: I knew ETHEL from the cradle. The first time I heard ETHEL play Early that summer my eyes welled up with tears. The quartet was concerned that I was unhappy with what they were doing. But I was overcome by emotion with the power and beauty of their playing. They totally got it – the rhythms, the drive, the “song” of the piece.
ETHEL: ETHEL’s new album is an homage to New York City and its music. How has NYC influenced your work, and in particular, your piece on this album?
JW: New York is energized, alive, open, and crazy. It has shaped me.
I wrote Early that summer the year I lived abroad in Amsterdam (Netherlands). It was amazing to be in Amsterdam, but I missed the craziness of New York. So that is in the piece. Also, while I was writing it I was reading a book about American political history. In the history small events would snowball into larger ones. One of those small events was introduced with the phrase “early that summer…” There was a constant sense of anticipation. This anticipation is at the essence of the music. The hyper speed and drive belong to New York City.
ETHEL: The album is entitled “Heavy.” How does this title resonate with your piece?
JW: For me there is a purity and directness in Early that summer that I reached. It is in many ways a turning point for me – to give in to the energy and let it fly. ETHEL is incredibly strong and inside the music. They brought it to a new place. That’s heavy!
ETHEL: Finish this sentence with one word: “ETHEL is …”
JW: …a steamroller baby.
ETHEL: Finish this sentence: “New York City is…”