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ETHEL string quartet to play Grand Forks and Mayville

The ETHEL string quartet will perform Sunday afternoon at North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, and Monday night at Mayville State University in Mayville, N.D. (Submitted photo)

The string quartet ETHEL may be acclaimed as one of the most exciting quartets around, but they're not much for wearing tuxedos or other formal clothes that, at one time at least, were traditional for those who played classical music.

"We don't wear tuxedos," said Kip Jones, who plays violin for the quartet, which will perform Sunday afternoon in Grand Forks and Monday night in Mayville, N.D. "They are hard to fold and uncomfortable to bring on an airline."

The cultural divide also is part of the more casual appearance of ensembles such as ETHEL, Jones said. The more classical musicians look like part of the people, the more they show that classical musical is for everyone, not just the well-educated or upper classes, he said.

"We like to take as much pretention out of our performances as possible," he said.

ETHEL will play at 2 p.m. Sunday at North Dakota Museum of Art on UND campus as part of "Myra Presents: Sunday Concerts in the Galleries." A second concert will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Mayville State University Classroom Building Auditorium.

Founded in 1998, the contemporary quartet fuses diverse traditions into a vibrant sound. In addition to Jones, its members are Ralph Farris, viola; Dorothy Lawson, cello; and Tema Watstein, violin.

Jones said ETHEL plays concert music that was written within the last generation for a contemporary audience. All its musicians have been classically trained to perform at a high level. But they're also willing to try working with any kind of music, however unusual or exotic.

Over the past three years, ETHEL has premiered more than 50 new works by 20th- and 21st-century composers, including pieces that were commissioned by the quartet or composed by ETHEL, a news release said. For instance, their premieres and performances have included "ETHEL Fair: The Songwriters," at opening night of Lincoln Center's Out of Doors Festival, and premieres by Rick Baitz and Randall Woolf at the Tribeca New Music Festival.

ETHEL has collaborated with international artists such as David Byrne and Loudon Wainwright III. Its musicians often appear on albums including the Grammy Award-winning "Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman."

Recently, ETHEL has toured nationally on "Tell Me Something Good," a celebration of the culture and sounds of the 1970s, featuring rock icon Todd Rundgren. Off-stage, ETHEL received acclaim for its third album, "Heavy," released in 2012.

In Grand Forks and Mayville, ETHEL will present a concert called "Present Beauty," which Jones described as "a transcendent experience" with pieces chosen from Philip Glass's music from the movie "The Hours." Other highlights for him, Jones said, are "Early That Summer," written by Julia Wolfe, and "Wed," by David Lang.

Tickets for the Grand Forks concert will be $15 for nonmembers, $13 for members, and $5 for students and military. Children 12 and younger are admitted free. Tickets will be available at the door, or in advance by calling (701) 777-4195.

Tickets for the Mayville concert will be $13, $5 and free for MSU student with college ID. Info: (701) 788-4742.