Notes from Paris
ACMA students stimulated by sounds and observations of visiting French quartet
On the surface, at least, The Ebene Quartet is a traditional classical string quartet.
The all-male ensemble from Paris, France, is clean cut, well dressed and plays complex melodic and harmonic patterns with precision and discipline.
Despite the highbrow veneer, however, these four 30-somethings hardly limit their repertoire to iconic composers who had passed before the first automobile was invented.
Addressing about 200 students Tuesday morning at the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy in Beaverton, violinist Pierre Colombet made it clear that classical can be cool as well as contemporary.
'Just like your generation, we cannot just play classical music,' he told the students, citing the quartet's rock and pop influences including the Beatles, Radiohead and Pink Floyd. 'Using classical instruments, we go as far as we can with different styles of music - because we need to do it.'
The words of Colombet and his musical cohorts in The Ebene Quartet, Gabriel Le Magadure (violin), Mathieu Herzog (viola) and Raphael Merlin (cello), seemed to connect with the students as well as the group's dynamic takes on Miles Davis' 'All Blues' and the first movement of Claude Debussy's 'String Quartet in G Minor.'
The quartet performed and conducted the workshop as part of a music education partnership between Portland-based Friends of Chamber Music and ACMA, an arts-oriented school in Central Beaverton serving grades six through 12.
The award-winning ensemble visited the school before playing two concerts in Portland State University's Lincoln Performance Hall on Monday and Tuesday.
After their own set, the French musicians and the assembled students took in performances by the academy's own chamber ensemble and jazz combo. The members of Ebene expressed appreciation of the students' music while offering encouraging critiques.
Addressing the classical group, the individual musicians urged the fledgling musicians to feel, rather than just think, the music.
'First, congratulations, because you play chamber music, and that's wonderful,' said one.
'Just try to feel the air around you, like when you sing,' offered another.
'Think about music, not technical problems. If you do, focus on one problem at a time, such as intonation,' added one of the players. 'Security is good, but once you have that security, be free.'
The Ebene Quartet first toured the U.S. in 2009, the same year the ensemble received 'Recording of the Year' accolades from the Gramophone Classical Music Awards for its album of Debussy, Ravel and Faure string-quartet pieces.
Recording for the Virgin Classics label, the quartet was named 'Newcomer of the Year' by BBC Music Magazine and released a jazz crossover disc, 'Fiction,' in the fall of 2010.
The academy's student-musicians agreed it was helpful to play before experienced players with some road miles and notable gigs behind them.
'It's always really good to hear feedback from people who know what they're doing,' said Nolan Hamer, 17, who plays drums for the academy's jazz combo. 'It helps your playing.'
Ryan DeHaven, 15, pulls double duty on clarinet and tenor sax with the academy's classical and jazz ensembles. He was impressed that the visiting musicians focused on specific details in their critiques.
'They all agreed in what they were saying, so it's got to mean something,' he said.
While he admitted enjoying the freedom of jazz, DeHaven also related to what Raphael Merlin of the Ebene Quartet referred to as the 'jail'-like restrictions to reading notes in classical music.
'I feel more comfortable in jazz,' he said. 'But I like being 'in jail' sometimes.'
Conte Bennett, director of the academy's jazz ensemble, said as a music instructor he values live performances as effective teaching tools.
'We're trying to get them involved in as many (shows) as we can,' he said, noting this was the jazz combo's fifth performance this year. 'It only makes you more solid, playing a gig. It's a different level of learning.'
While he sets parameters for his students, Bennett said he tries to give them enough room to find their own voices.
'I'm in charge, but I really like to give them some freedom. I think that builds on their abilities and teaches them to think on their feet better,' he said.
Lucas Cozby, 16, an academy senior who plays piano with the jazz combo, said he appreciates the academy's 'open-minded' emphasis on artistic expression and values thoughtful criticism from accomplished musicians.
'It's like a new chapter with our playing,' he said. 'At the next rehearsal, it will really push us toward what we want to get at.'