The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 30, 2012

Quartet to play world's holiday music

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Mark Summer hates to leave holiday songs out. But there's so many to cover in a multicultural program.

Summer, the cellist for Turtle Island Quartet, said the group's holiday program covers a lot of ground, including old English carols, songs from the Jewish Hanukkah and Hindu Diwali celebrations and even a little Fleetwood Mac and Vince Guaraldi Trio.

And he said the program is likely to change further, thanks to violinist Mateusz Smoczynki, of Poland, and violist Benjamin von Gutzeit, of Germany.

"They just joined the group in September," Summer said. "We're in the process of discussing with them how they celebrated the holidays."

The quartet will perform Thursday as part of Pro Musica Joplin's annual chamber music season. The program, called "Festival of Lights," is an exploration into cultural winter solstice celebrations.

It will feature holiday selections from Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Miles Davis, Horace Clarence Boyer and more. Maybe even some Jimi Hendrix -- Summer said violinist and founding member David Balakrishnan likes to make a set list close to each performance.

He and Balakrishnan formed the quartet in 1985 with a different vision in mind: A classical quartet also well versed in jazz improvisation.

"(Balakrishnan) had this very strong, clear dream of having four players equally grounded in improv," Summer said. "Rather than playing styles, it would cross over them. A quartet had never been that way."

Music critics agree: The quartet has become renowned for its style, winning Grammy awards in 2006 and 2008 and earning high praise from legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

In addition to standard playing, Summer said the quartet also becomes its own rhythm section, with strumming and tapping on instruments. The quartet has explored a variety of different music in past performances, including folk, swing, bluegrass and R&B.

The quartet takes its name from a creation myth in Native American folklore. Summer said all four members are trained improvisers.

"We all have an understanding of our instruments and each others'," Summer said. "When we talk about all the different ways of creating a groove, we have a knowledge of what we're imitating. That's what makes us cook."

Want to go?

Turtle Island Quartet will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday at Central Christian Church, located at Fifth and Virginia. Details: 417-625-1822