The dynamic Paris-based Ebène Quartet begins a twelve-city North American tour next week with its debut at the Savannah Music Festival (March 31), hot on the heels of the release of its new Virgin Classics album, Fiction. On tour, the Ebène will play works from the great chamber music repertoire – including the quartets of Debussy, Fauré, and Ravel, heard on the group’s debut album, which won the coveted Gramophone Award – as well as music from Fiction, a program of 16 pop and jazz tracks boasting guest appearances by drummer Richard Héry and a quartet of female stars: Natalie Dessay, Stacey Kent, Fanny Ardant, and Luz Casal. The tour also includes debuts for the Ebène in Syracuse, NY (April 2), Storrs, CT (April 6), Philadelphia, PA (April 7), Montreal, QC (April 10), Indianapolis, IN (April 13), Urbana, IL (April 14), and Houston, TX (April 15). The quartet’s New York City engagements include an appearance at Town Hall (April 3); a performance chat at WQXR’s Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, to be broadcast and webcast at www.wqxr.org (April 4); and a return to Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall (April 8).
Described by the New York Times as “a string quartet that can easily morph into a jazz band,” the Ebène Quartet displays its genre-bending talent on Fiction, which features improvisations and arrangements of themes from film soundtracks, jazz standards, and rock classics. The Ebène takes on and transforms unforgettable tunes by the likes of the Beatles (“Come Together”), Astor Piazzolla (“Libertango”), Wayne Shorter (“Footprints”), and Charlie Chaplin (“Smile”), as well as the quartet’s already talked-about spin on “Misirlou,” a tune made famous by surf guitarist Dick Dale and by its inclusion in the film Pulp Fiction. Joining the Ebène are the dazzling French soprano Natalie Dessay (singing Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” and Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of your Life”), singer-songwriter Stacey Kent (singing Jobim’s “Corcovado”), and Spanish pop singer Luz Casal. The quartet’s members even do some singing themselves, with violist Mathieu Herzog taking the vocal lead in Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and all four performing a cappella in their rendition (en francais) of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” which has been a surprise encore for many of the group’s recitals in both traditional and alternative venues.
The new album takes the group several steps closer to its dream of re-inventing the string quartet genre. As one member of the ensemble put it, “In everything we have been willing to do musically – during all that time spent practicing Haydn, Beethoven, or Bartók – there has always been a concealed dream of improvising and creating a new approach to playing string quartet.”