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Schwartz Center for Performing Arts co-commissions new works from Turtle Island Quartet
Turtle Island Quartet

Turtle Island Quartet, featuring (l-r) David Balakrishnan, violin; Benjamin von Gutzeit, viola; Gabriel Terracciano, violin; and Naseem Alatrash, cello, will perform a new project co-commissioned by the Schwartz Center on Friday, March 22, at Emory.

— Photo by Sylvia Elzafon

On Friday, March 22, Turtle Island Quartet will present its musical mosaic including four new works at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts in Emerson Concert Hall. The program, “Island Prayers,” is an ambitious, multi-composer project co-commissioned by the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Meany Performing Arts Center, The Music Hall (Portsmouth, NH) and Savannah Music Hall.

Guests can arrive early for complimentary refreshments and pre-concert music featuring Emory students in the Schwartz Centers Chace Gallery beginning at 7 p.m. 

During the students’ pre-concert performance, cellist Andrew Choi will present a variety of solo works before being joined by Christy Song and Carol Xu (violin) and Caroline Ma (viola). In keeping with the evening’s theme of new music, they will perform “Imọlara (Feeling),” a new composition in four movements by Oluwasijibomi (Siji) Osunkoya, a senior double majoring in neuroscience and behavioral biology and music composition. Osunkoya will also be available to discuss his latest composition.

The story behind Island Prayers’

“Island Prayers” features new works written by six-time Grammy Award winner and double Oscar Award nominee Terence Blanchard; MacArthur Genius fellow, singer and banjo player Rhiannon Giddens; New Music USA composer-in-residence and Joyce Award winner Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate; and Turtle Island Quartet’s founder David Balakrishnan.

The program came from Balakrishnan’s revelation that the deep connection live performance has to the human psyche is only paralleled by spiritual practice. It is through both the rituals of performing arts and spiritual celebration that our most profound and meaningful human characteristics are engaged: community, reflection and collective imagination.

“When we started thinking of how to best announce this renewed identity for the quartet to the world, we knew that the statement had to be on a grand scale, and that the voices needed to be both artistically expansive and revered,” says Balakrishnan, Turtle Island composer and violinist. “My piece, ‘The Second Wave,’ had just been recorded for Terence Blanchard’s Blue Note release ‘Absence,’ and Terence’s unwavering support of my writing gave me the confidence to imagine a return to the original vision of Turtle Island Quartet — a group that performed my original music, along with other original works by jazz and American roots composers.”

Speaking about the commissioned composers for “Island Prayers,” Balakrishnan shares that “all three voices naturally coalesce around a broader idea: That for the highest achieving individuals, ‘classical music’ is no longer confined to traditional expectations, even in its original forms. It was intentional that we found one voice each to represent jazz, folkloric and new music, but that each voice had broad stylistic influences beyond the preconceived limits of their genre, in this case ranging from West African, Caribbean and Indigenous cultures. What we wanted to show is that even these three primary stylistic pillars, which all happen to find their way in my writing as well, were not contained to one exclusive artistic or cultural subset.”

Tickets for “Island Prayers” are available online, or by visiting or calling the Schwartz Center Box Office at 404-727-5050, Monday-Friday, 12-6p.m.

About Turtle Island Quartet

Turtle Island Quartet derives its name from the borrowed name for North America, based on many creation myths of the Indigenous people who have been in the United States for millennia. In this context, Turtle Island is a place or idea where traditions and cultures merge into a gorgeous, cohesive, compelling mosaic that happens most naturally in music.

Since its inception in 1985, the quartet has been a singular force in the creation of new trends in chamber music for strings, as their signature style has fused jazz, American roots and innovative string techniques. Winners of the 2006 and 2008 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Crossover Album, Turtle Island has merged classical with contemporary American musical styles. Now, they begin a new adventure, transitioning from an ensemble that primarily features a variety of arranged works to one that commissions and creates original music. 

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