Its name derived from creation mythology found in Native American Folklore, the Turtle Island Quartet, since its inception in 1985, has been a singular force in the creation of bold, new trends in chamber music for strings. Winner of the 2006 and most recently, the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album, Turtle Island fuses the classical quartet esthetic with contemporary American musical styles, and by devising a performance practice that honors both, the state of the art has inevitably been redefined. Cellist nonpareil Yo-Yo Ma has proclaimed TIQ to be “a unified voice that truly breaks new ground – authentic and passionate – a reflection of some of the most creative music-making today.”
The Quartet’s birth was the result of violinist David Balakrishnan’s brainstorming explorations and compositional vision while completing his master’s degree program at Antioch University West. The journey has taken Turtle Island through forays into folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, new age, rock, hip-hop, as well as music of Latin America and India…a repertoire consisting of hundreds of ingenious arrangements and originals. It has included over a dozen recordings on labels such as Windham Hill, Chandos, Koch and Telarc, soundtracks for major motion pictures, TV and radio credits such as the Today Show, All Things Considered, Prairie Home Companion, and Morning Edition, feature articles in People and Newsweek magazines, and collaborations with famed artists such as clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, guitar legends such as Leo Kottke and the Assad brothers, The Manhattan Transfer, pianists Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron, Cyrus Chestnut and Ramsey Lewis, singers Tierney Sutton and Nellie McKay, the Ying Quartet and the Parsons and Luna Negra Dance Companies.
Another unique element of Turtle Island is their revival of venerable improvisational and compositional chamber traditions that have not been explored by string players for nearly 200 years. At the time of Haydn’s apocryphal creation of the string quartet form, musicians were more akin to today’s saxophonists and keyboard masters of the Jazz and pop world, i.e., improvisers, composers, and arrangers. Each Turtle Island member is accomplished in these areas of expertise as well as having extensive conservatory training.
As Turtle Island members continue to refine their skills through the development of repertory by some of today’s cutting edge composers, through performances and recordings with major symphonic ensembles, and through a determined educational commitment, members refine their skills through the development of repertory by some of today’s cutting edge composers, through performances and recordings with major symphonic ensembles, and through a determined educational commitment, the Turtle Island Quartet stakes its claim as the quintessential ‘New World’ string quartet of the 21st century.
David Balakrishnan, the group’s founder and ‘resident composer,’ graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in music composition and violin. Moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, he quickly established his reputation as a talented young improvising violinist, making guest appearances with the David Grisman Quartet and jazz violin legend Stephane Grappelli, and earning a Masters Degree in music composition at Antioch University West.
Violinist Alex Hargreaves is an active performer, having played on stages around the world including Austin City Limits, A Prairie Home Companion, Panama Jazz Festival, Bonnaroo, Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, as well as venues in Europe and South Korea. Wintergrass fans have seen Alex peform at Wintergrass with a variety of bands over the years.
At age 17, Alex became a member of world-renowned mandolinist Mike Marshall’s Big Trio, along with bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers) and toured with the trio extensively following the 2008 release of their self-titled album on Adventure Music. From 2007 – 14, Alex regularly toured with singer/multi-instrumentalist, Sarah Jarosz, appearing on three of her critically acclaimed albums, as well as being featured on her Grammy-nominated instrumental, Mansinneedof. In addition, he has toured with Jerry Douglas, David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Danilo Perez and Darol Anger.
A native of New Orleans, cellist Malcolm Parson has been hailed as “the most creative cellist of his generation”. According to Grammy Award winner, Eugene Friesen, “He is that rare player with feet planted firmly in classical music and the music of our time while possessing perfect intonation, fluent technique and stylistic versatility.”
A longtime member of the grammy winning “Carolina Chocolate Drops,” Malcolm has also shared the stage with musicians and bands such as James Lauderdale, Della Mae, Del McCoury, Old Crow Medicine Show, Ron Carter, Paquito D’Rivera, Patrice Rushen, Toshi Reagon, Terri Lynn Carrington, Dave Liebman, and Christian Howes as well as collaborating with choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Julia Gleich, and dance company Brooklyn Ballet.
Benjamin von Gutzeit, one of only a handful of true jazz violists worldwide, was born in Bochum, Germany, into a musical family. His father is a well-known music pedagogue; his mother a pianist and two of his siblings are classical string players. He began his viola studies at the age of four, starting on a very small violin that was fitted with viola strings. He received instructions from his father until age twelve when he became the student of violist Emile Cantor of the Orpheus String Quartet.
He became an active participant of the Dutch jazz scene and performed with numerous groups including: Elastic Jargon by Maurice Horsthuis and Starvinsky Orkestar by Martin Fondse. He was sought after at prominent concert venues and festivals such as the Bimhuis and the famed North Sea Jazz Festival. In 2010 he moved to New York City (supported by scholarships of the Dutch Fonds Podiumkunsten, the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben and the Kogel&Schmidt Foundation) and became the first violist to earn a Master’s Degree from the Jazz department of the Manhattan School of Music. Benni has performed and recorded with many great musicians including jazz violinist Mark Feldman, electronic music virtuoso Matthew Herbert, cellist Ernst Reijseger, and Saxophonist Dave Liebman. vongutzeit.com