The final concert in the Ivalas Quartet’s 2022–23 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residency, postponed from June 2023, represents their ongoing commitment to showcasing diverse voices. Their program, spotlighting Black and indigenous composers, includes a world premiere by Derrick Skye, a composer with Ghanaian, Nigerian, Native American, and British/Irish ancestry who believes music is a doorway into understanding other cultures.
Reuben Kebede, violin
Tiani Butts, violin
Marcus Stevenson, viola
Pedro Sánchez, cello
Jessie Montgomery: Strum
Carlos Simon: Warmth from Other Suns
Eleanor Alberga: String Quartet No. 2
Derrick Skye: Deliverance (World Premiere, Commissioned by Caramoor)
We as the Ivalas Quartet believe that representation matters.
The Ivalas Quartet was formed after a conversation about a feeling of absence we shared — how we rarely saw our own faces and cultures in classical music. As members of Black and Latinx communities, we saw a lack of representation, of celebration, and of classical music making from our own communities and to our own communities.
Ivalas seeks to disrupt and enhance the classical music world with voices less known and sometimes unheard. By performing works for string quartet written by underrepresented BIPOC composers, the Ivalas Quartet strives to bring all kinds of audience members together in musical celebration.
Through the tool of representation, Ivalas looks to inspire young musicians and musicians-to-be with the sounds of music from cultures and communities that echo their own. We as Ivalas are deeply focused on renewing and uplifting the classical music industry through the amplification of BIPOC voices. We have set our sights on creating community, making exceptional art, and inspiring the future of classical music. Join us.
Today’s concert is an exciting showcase of how the mission of the Ivalas Quartet translates into their artistic programming. Ivalas wanted to frame the premiere of Derrick Skye’s Deliverance, commissioned by Caramoor, with some favorite repertoire written by BIPOC composers that the quartet has performed in the past few seasons. The repertoire presented today presents a “juxtaposition of a specific cultural flavor and academic writing … We want to present a program that allows us to have a lot of different artists just celebrating their unique voices. It’s going to be a party,” says cellist Pedro Sánchez.
Collaborating with Skye is a natural fit as there is great synergy between their respective artistic missions. On his website Skye states that he is “an American who has Ghanaian, Nigerian, British, Irish, and Native American ancestry, [whose] ancestry and identity have led him to claim and develop an ‘American’ aesthetic that incorporates many cultural influences into his work, reflecting the diverse communities he is part of. [He] passionately believes in music as a doorway into understanding other cultures and different ways of living. Through learning the music of other cultures, the opportunity for dialogue rather than conflict between strangers is opened, and our society can become one with less conflict due to cultural misunderstanding. [He] is deeply invested in fostering creative and effective collaboration between artists of different disciplines and traditions.”
“As soon as we received the wonderful news of our Caramoor Residency.
we all went to the Internet and tried to listen to as much music as possible from composers that we felt inspired to ask for a commission,” shares Sánchez. “We really enjoyed Derrick Skye’s American Mirror and asked Caramoor to see if he might be available and interested. Fortunately the timing for the commission worked for Skye and it’s been fireworks ever since.”
Skye shares his thoughts about the new piece in his program note:
Deliverance is a transcultural classical string quartet that blends Persian classical melodic systems with rhythmic elements from West and North African music. The inspiration behind the title, Deliverance, originates from the deep sensation of freedom from fear and anxiety achieved by embracing vulnerability and imperfection. From Persian classical music, the piece uses two korons, which to the Western trained ear may sound like ﬂat microtonal pitches. Sonically, this demonstrates how something initially perceived as an imperfection, over time and with a change in perspective, can be seen as an aspect of perfection.
The piece begins with the use of the Persian classical Gushé Shekaste, which translates to “broken.” This section embodies fragmentation and invites the listener to engage with the evolving dynamics between two tone collections of Gushé Shekaste, the main tetrachord and the auxiliary notes. As the tempo accelerates, grooves and repeated phrases emerge, symbolizing chants and mantras through the utilization of 3, 4, and 6 beat groupings and polyrhythms inﬂuenced by West African and North African rhythmic forms. As the piece slows, it transitions into Dastgâh-e Navâ, meaning “song.” The counterpoint of this section is inspired by the choral works of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and the chorales of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The journey of Deliverance continues as it explores the enigmatic realm of Gushé Nahoft, signifying “something hidden.” Once we hear the recapitulation of the melody in Gushé Shekaste, the piece progressively builds in intensity, culminating in Dastgâh-e Mâhur, (Mâhur is a type of ﬂower). In its ﬁnal moments, the piece reaches its conclusion with a cadence using Morakab-Navazi to move between Dastgâh-e Navâ and Gushé Goshâyesh. The word Goshâyesh refers to something good opening up in one’s life, such as prosperity or luck.
“This will be our first time really diving into that type of intonation as a quartet,” explains violinist Reuben Kebede. “We work so much to really refine tuning in the Western classical way … But this will be really fun, because there’s a certain aspect that he’s included in his work, adding the Persian elements and kind of layering those with Western classical tuning which creates a very unique sound for string quartet.”
“It’s a beautiful piece, but that beauty resides in a lot of ways that tension is presented,” shares violist Aimée McAnulty. “There are moments in the piece where the tension is really palpable in terms of people playing pitches that rub against each other. We all kind of feel on edge because we’re musicians that haven’t heard microtonality in that sense. So that is very palpable in the room. And then there are moments where Derrick expertly brings in chords and things that we’re more familiar with, and then brings in microtones on top of that, and introduces it in a way where you kind of feel a little bit more at home with it. He introduces a rhythm here or there, and you start to feel groovy, and then it morphs into another place of tension again.”
The music of Jessie Montgomery has become an increasingly regular presence in concert halls near and far. A recent profile of the composer in The New York Times bore the headline “The Changing American Canon Sounds Like Jessie Montgomery: This composer’s music — improvisatory, open to influence, personal yet resonant — will be hard to miss …” Montgomery is currently Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony and teaches violin and composition at the New School. In her program note to Strum Montgomery says that the piece:
…is the culminating result of several versions of a string quintet I wrote in 2006. It was originally written for the Providence String Quartet and guests of Community MusicWorks Players, then arranged for string quartet in 2008 with several small revisions. In 2012 the piece underwent its final revisions with a rewrite of both the introduction and the ending for the Catalyst Quartet in a performance celebrating the 15th annual Sphinx Competition.
Originally conceived for the formation of a cello quintet, the voicing is often spread wide over the ensemble, giving the music an expansive quality of sound. Within Strum I utilized texture motives, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinati that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. The strumming pizzicato serves as a texture motive and the primary driving rhythmic underpinning of the piece. Drawing on American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement, the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration.
“Jessie Montgomery has a lot of American folk elements that we love,” Kebede says. “We like to think that we’re driving in the Western United States by the Grand Canyon or something like that when we’re playing Strum.” McAnulty adds that “Strum provides a great moment for the audience to think about what makes this country what it is, and the diversity of what everything that exists here brings to the whole. and how that makes us all better for it.”
Eleanor Alberga is a highly-regarded mainstream British composer with commissions from the BBC Proms and The Royal Opera, Covent Garden. With a substantial output ranging from solo instrumental works to full-scale symphonic works and operas, her music is performed all over the world. Her String Quartet No. 2 was written in 1994 and is in one movement but resembles a four-movement quartet played without pauses. Alberga’s music “has a nice juxtaposition of a Western classical, compositional style with Jamaican elements,” according to Kebede. “In her String Quartet No. 2, she uses just one theme at the beginning and develops it throughout the piece, and by the end it’s kind of like a Jamaican party.”
Ivalas counts making the first commercially released recording of Carlos Simon’s Warmth From Other Suns as a major highlight of their career. Simon is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, is Composer-in-Residence at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and currently serves as Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. He remarks in his program note to the piece:
Between 1916 and 1970, the mass exodus of African-Americans leaving the rural South, seeking homes in the urban West, Midwest, and Northeast became known as the Great Migration. Inspired by Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns, I chose to bring these stories to life through the voice of a string quartet.
“Carlos Simon tells a story of these three families that make their way from the South to the North during the great migration. The first movement, Rays of Light … captures the feeling that we have to depart home, depart the known. The second moment, Flight, uses the blues scale … It’s filled with anxiety and the feeling of running. And the third movement, Settle, brings us a little bit back to those same things in the first movement. We will let the audience decide whether the final harmonies feel like settling down or not,” explains Sánchez.
Violinist Tiani Butts adds a little more commentary on the emotional ambiguity captured in Simon’s work. She says that the listener is asked to reflect on whether or not the original goals of those families had when they left home “were actually reached or accomplished. Trying to start somewhere new, hoping that it’s going to be a little bit better, at least a little bit better than what you just left. and never really understanding, or never really knowing, if it’s going to feel like home. You’ve made the journey, and you’re there. But is this as good as it gets? Or is there going to be another flight? I don’t really know. It’s quite interesting to think about whether it’s been settled or not, and I think that’s exactly what continues to go on today.”
— Daniel Doña
Daniel Doña is a violist and Senior Lecturer in Music at the Boston University School of Music, where he serves as Chair of the Committee for Antiracism & Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access. He is an avid chamber musician and a member of the Arneis Quartet.
Hailed by The Strad for playing with “tremendous heart and beauty,” the Ivalas Quartet has been changing the face of classical music since its inception at the University of Michigan in 2017. Dedicated to the celebration of BIPOC voices, Ivalas seeks to enhance the classical music world by consistently spotlighting past and present BIPOC composers such as Jessie Montgomery, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Eleanor Alberga.
The Ivalas Quartet had the pleasure of performing George Walker’s Lyric for Strings at Carnegie Hall in January 2020. Later that year, they worked in collaboration with Walker’s son to program his String Quartet No. 1 with Friends of Chamber Music Denver and the Colorado Music Festival. In 2021, they created the first recording of Carlos Simon’s Warmth From Other Suns for string quartet under Lara Downes’ digital label Rising Sun Music.
Currently, The Ivalas Quartet is the Graduate Resident String Quartet at The Juilliard School in New York City, where they study under the Juilliard String Quartet. They were previously in residence at the University of Colorado-Boulder under the mentorship of the Takács Quartet.
The Ivalas Quartet has been featured in various concert series, including Community Concerts at Second in Baltimore, Friends of Chamber Music Denver, Detroit’s WRCJ Classical Brunch, the inaugural Detroit Music Weekend, the Davidson College Concert Series in North Carolina, the Crested Butte Music Festival, the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival, the Great Lakes Center for the Arts, the Blue Sage Center for the Arts, and CU Presents concert series where the quartet performed alongside the Takács Quartet in 2020 and 2022. Ivalas won the first prize at the 2019 WDAV Young Chamber Musicians Competition in Davidson, NC, as well as the grand prize at the 2022 Coltman Chamber Music Competition in Austin, TX.
The quartet also keeps a busy calendar in the summer, performing in past seasons at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Colorado Music Festival, Music In the Vineyards, Madeline Island Chamber Music, and the Anchorage Chamber Music Festival. This past summer Ivalas returned to the University of Michigan in a mentorship role, coaching student groups at Center Stage Strings.
Ivalas was named Caramoor’s 2022–23 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence and has been presenting multiple concerts at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts. In the fall of 2022, Ivalas appeared at the Austin Chamber Music Center, Newport Classical in Rhode Island, CU Presents Takács Series, Schneider Concerts in NY, and the MacPhail Center for Music in MN. In May of 2023, they presented their first full program at Carnegie Hall, titled First Light.
The members of the Ivalas Quartet have a shared dedication to their roles as educators. Through the Sphinx Organization, Ivalas has presented educational programming in the Metro Detroit area, with an emphasis on community engagement in schools with Black and Latinx communities. In Colorado, they developed a partnership with El Sistema Colorado and were a part of the Aspen Music Festival Musical Connections program. In their new home of New York City, the quartet is enjoying working with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on their Chamber Music Beginnings program.
The Ivalas Quartet has nurtured students from the early stages of their musical journey to the collegiate level, with coaching experience including residencies at the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Central Arkansas, Madeline Island Chamber Music, and the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. In New York City, they coach student groups at The Juilliard School.
To learn more about the Ivalas Quartet, please visit their website (ivalasquartet.com).
Derrick Skye is a Los Angeles-based composer, conductor, and musician known for his transcultural approach to music, integrating various musical practices from different cultures around the world into his work. The Los Angeles Times has described his music as “something to savor” and “enormous fun to listen to,” while The Times (London) has praised Skye’s music as “deliciously head-spinning.” Skye is an American who has Ghanaian, Nigerian, British, and Irish ancestry.
Fascinated by the musical connections that can be found across cultures, Skye’s compositional process involves layers of problem-solving to integrate seemingly disparate musical traditions in a way that is not so different from the scientific method. With degrees in composition from the University of California, Los Angeles, and California Institute of the Arts, Skye is a student of West African drumming and dance with Kobla Ladzekpo, Beatrice Lawluvi, and Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole; Persian classical music theory with Pirayeh Pourafar; tala in Hindustani classical music with Swapan Chaudhuri and Aashish Khan; Balkan music theory with Tzvetanka Varimezova; and Balinese gamelan with I Nyoman Wenten.
At 40 years of age, Skye is incredibly prolific, having written orchestral music commissioned and/or performed by prestigious ensembles such as the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra (Canada), Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and The John F. Kennedy Center; a collaborative electro-acoustic artificial intelligence opera commissioned by The Lincoln Center (recently featured at TED 2023); choral works for Los Angeles Master Chorale, Conspirare, and EXIGENCE; and many chamber works. Rhythm and the embodiment of rhythm through movement and dance is an important theme in Skye’s works; he has often collaborated with choreographers such as Yeko Ladzepko-Cole, the Leela Dance Collective, Sheetal Gandhi, as well as synchronized swimming champion and international coach Sue Nesbitt.
Highlights of Skye’s oeuvre include Prisms, Cycles, Leaps for orchestra, which weaves together Western classical music, music of the Balkans, music of the Volta Region of Ghana, and Hindustani classical music; American Mirror for string quartet, which reflects on the coming together of cultures in societies consisting of many generations and descendants of refugees, immigrants, and enslaved people; and god of the gaps, a piece for solo violin, loop pedal, and electronics that features a quarter-tone flat found in the tonal systems Dastgâh-e Shur and Âvâz-e Esfahân from Persian classical music.
In addition to his work as a composer, Skye is dedicated to promoting cross-cultural understanding through music. His mission is to create music that transcends cultural boundaries and bridges diverse communities. Skye is Artistic Director of Bridge to Everywhere, Artistic Advisor for Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Board Member of American Composers Forum, and Member of the New Music USA Program Council. Through his work, Skye demonstrates his belief in the power of music to inspire, connect, and foster dialogue across cultures.
The Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence mentoring program is supported, in part, by major endowment gifts from the Ernst C. Stiefel Foundation.
This concert was made possible, in part, thanks to the generous support of The Amphion Foundation.