Ahead of their concerts in Manchester and Leeds, Composers Edition’s Dan Goren catches up with the Ebonit Quartet to ask about performing and recording the music of Richard Whalley and Kevin Malone.
DG: For those not familiar with you yet, how would you describe the Ebonit Quartet?
EQ: Ebonit is a international ensemble based in Amsterdam, whose priority and mission is the highest quality performance, close and intimate interaction with the audience, and always innovative and interesting programs, which include their own arrangements and collaborations with composers.
DG: To my ear you have a particularly refined sound with an attention to phrasing and inter-part relations which brings to mind string quartet performance traditions. Is that an important influence for you?
EQ: Yes. In fact, we work, get inspired and learn a lot from string players. We were very fortunate to be accepted for a full-time study at the Dutch String Quartet Academy (NSKA) where we received coaching from members of Quatour Danel, Stefan Metz, Luc-Marie Aguera from Ysaye Quartet, Eberhard Feltz, Peter Cropper, Vera Martinez from Casals Quartet and many other renowned musicians and string players.
We admire so much the knowledge we receive from them, which is very much focused on the music, style and aesthetics and not really on strictly technical saxophone skills, which of course they do not have. Many times, a musical solution helps the technique.
We also love to play arrangements of string quartet repertoire. Taking in consideration that many composers like Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn never wrote for saxophone, we find it important to play that repertoire in order to develop as musicians. And let’s be honest, it is wonderful music! Ebonit aims for as high level of performance as any renowned string quartet would deliver.
DG: Great to hear you working again with Richard Whalley and Kevin Malone. You first premiered Lapetus Suture (Whalley) and The Housatonic near Sandy Hook (Malone) in Paris, 2016. What drew you to working with these Manchester-based composers?
EQ: We were introduced to Richard Whalley and Kevin Malone by Marc Danel who was our teacher at the time and who also had a residency with Quatour Danel in Manchester.
Marc informed us about those two wonderful composers, with whom we got in touch and very quickly after the two works were written for us.
It was and still is an amazing collaboration. We appreciate so much the ideas and inspirations of those two composers, but also their differences. As musicians we feel so glad, fortunate and honored to work with composers like Richard and Kevin, who are very curious in their way of working. Always looking for new ways of expression, new techniques, completely new sound-worlds, but also very active in todays real world by organising concerts and workshops.
DG: Malone’s work often address politicised issues. His work you’re premiering in Manchester The Water Protectors addresses use of natural resources. You’ll also be performing Whalley’s Refugees Welcome ♥. How do you view the relationship between your work as musicians and these issues?
EQ: I think as musicians, we most of the time try to be not too political, since our main focus is the artform. However, some topics, including these two issues, are very close to our heart. We feel that as performers we are very fortunate to have this tool of “speaking” to the crowd. We want to use it to do our bit to help make this world a better place for all of us.
DG: I understand you’ll also be recording for a CD to be issued on the Metier Label. Tell me about that.
EQ: It is an honor and huge pleasure for us. We are so much looking forward to recording all four new works by Richard Whalley and Kevin Malone. We are so fortunate that this project can happen, and it is all thanks to those two outstanding people and composers, their inspiration and professionalism. It is first time for us to put on a CD such a close collaboration. During those few years we got to know each other on different levels. As musicians, but also just as people. That’s why we are even more excited and curious for the result of this personal collaboration.
DG: What other performances and projects have you got planned?
EQ: Shortly after our time in Manchester we have few very exciting concerts coming up.
International Kamermuziek Festival in Utrecht, wonderful De Doelen in Rotterdam, Mozartwoche in Salzburg. We are very honoured and grateful to be invited for a residency at Snape Maltings where we will work closely with Luc-Marie Aguera and give several performances in that region. We are also starting our own little series in Meevaart, Amsterdam, which will be in a form of open rehearsal and free concerts.
We find a social media exposure very important, therefore we try to be very active and since this year we started with our Vlog, which brings our audience a little bit behind the scenes of musicians, quartet life.
Monday 28 November, 1:10pm
Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester
Monday 28 November, 1:05pm
University of Leeds International Concert Series
Kevin Malone Profile & Works Richard Whalley Profile & Works