The Chicago Q Ensemble
by Donna Marbury
Don’t ask them what the “Q” stands for because they won’t tell. By the time you hear their music, it won’t matter. A performance by the Chicago Q Ensemble won’t be as hushed and cross-legged as your typical chamber music event. “Audience members can order a beer or three while taking in the music. The music itself is wild and a little rowdy, so we think that it’ll be a perfect combination,” says violinist Kate Carter of the group’s upcoming show on Wednesday, February 13 at The Unfamiliar Music Series at the Empty Bottle in the Ukrainian Village.
Formed in 2010 by violinist Ellen McSweeney and Aimee Biasiello on the viola, with cellist Sara Sitzer and Carter added later, the group wants to add a new note to the sound of stringed music. Last year, the group saw highs and lows: after releasing two albums, Amy Wurtz String Quartets and Fjords, a trippy-stringed interpretation of poet Zachary Schomburg’s work, Bisasiello injured her shoulder and blogged on the group’s website about the untold occupational hazards of musicians.
Though they are tight lipped about the origins of their name, the ladies of the Chicago Q Ensemble open up about how new music, pop-up performances and community collaborations are making 2013 a quintessential year.
ChicagoMusic.org: How did you meet and decide to form a group?
Ellen McSweeney: I decided to gather together a group of musicians who I really liked both personally and musically for a night of sight reading and fondue. We all connected really well, and decided to dive in and become a chamber group without much idea of what we were doing. It’s been a pretty steep learning curve ever since, but a really fun and exciting one.
CMO: You had two very different albums come out last year. How do you go about selecting your projects to record?
McSweeney: Our first recording project, the string quartets of Amy Wurtz, we did because Amy approached us about working together. She sent us some of her music; we played it and fell in love with it. The Fjords recording project emerged naturally from our collaboration with Kyle Vegter and Manual Cinema. Kyle is an amazing composer and producer, and recording is a pretty big part of his creative process. We also had the opportunity to release the CD along with the book of poetry that inspired it by Zachary Schomburg. Both of these recording projects were really fun and rewarding, and a wonderful learning experience for us to figure out how we want to go about doing recording in the future.
CMO: What are the details of the community partnership program with the City of Chicago?
Sara Sitzer: We’re currently in the process of planning the first of what we hope to become a series of neighborhood residencies, which we will work on in conjunction with Hich Concept Laboratories and the City of Chicago. The ‘storefront residency,’ as we’re calling it, is designed to invigorate the local community through art by fostering connections between Chicago residents, businesses and the string quartet. For approximately eight weeks, Chicago Q Ensemble will transform an empty neighborhood commercial space into a lively musical center, filling it with public rehearsals, performances and conversations. The program will also include pop-up performances in local businesses, visits to neighborhood schools and interviews and discussions with neighborhood residents.
CMO: What are some of the projects you are excited about in 2013?
Kate Carter: Where to start? Our friend and colleague, Matt Pakulski, is starting his own record label, FPE Records, and he’s asked us to record! In the fall, a collaboration is in the works with James Falzone, an adventurous clarinetist and composer, along with MOMENTA, a dynamic Chicago dance company. This is one my favorite projects, because we’ve done so many inspiring collaborations, but this will be our first with a dance group.
CMO: What has been the most surprising aspect of being a part of an all-girl string quartet?
Sitzer: As odd as it may seem, we tend to forget about the all-girl aspect to our group, even though that’s probably the first people some people think of when they see our quartet. Perhaps that in itself is surprising. All we care about is that we’re a group of four people that work really, really well together and happen to love playing with each other.