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Arts and Entertainment Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 1 month ago

EnsembleNewSRQ redefines chamber music

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Celebrating its sixth season with five main stage concerts, EnsembleNewSRQ highlights bold, new work by living composers.
by: Andréa Martone A+E Contributor

After 12 years as a couple, EnsembleNewSRQ founders and co-artistic directors Samantha Bennett and George Nickson have combined their passion for each other with music. 

The husband and wife's innovative, bold chamber music group is going strong in its sixth season, with five main stage concerts slated for Sarasota audiences.

EnsembleNewSRQ relies on a multitude of percussive instruments and playing techniques to spotlight new chamber music.

The sonic palate includes different types of instruments, including drums from Thailand, gongs, Alpine cowbells and marimbas (some as heavy as 300 pounds) combined with creative lighting for an atypical performance. 

“We use many new instruments to create sound and ideally try to fool the listener to think our music is electric,” said Nickson, who is a percussionist. 

Always in pursuit of expanding the group’s musical capabilities and collaborations, Nickson says it’s a priority for them to explore “the interface of violin performance, composition, poetry, collage and multimedia.”

An example is the upcoming performance "Sequoia," at 8 p.m. Oct. 11 at the First Congregational Church featuring Yaz Lancaster, who is not only a composer and violinist but also an artist who melds poetry, collage and multimedia.

The innovative works were chosen and include contemporary composers. The 2021-22 season, entitled “Season Six,” includes five main-stage concerts featuring four premieres of commissioned works (“Shadow Theater” by Max Grafe, “Void” by Elizabeth A. Baker, “String Trio” by Tyson Gholston Davis and “Waves” by Sebastian Currier), new collaborations (with Chroma Trio and Ensemble Vim) and guest appearances by old friends (Conor Hanick, Han Chen, Nina C. Young and Andreia Pinto Correia). The main-stage concerts will also be livestreamed.

“We use many new instruments to create sound and ideally try to fool the listener to think our music is electric." — George Nickson

The first four concerts will be at First Congregational Church, 1031 S. Euclid Ave., Sarasota. The location of "Waves" on April 18, will be announced later in season.

“We’ll be premiering four new compositions, and that’s a first for us,” says Nickson, who has also been the principal percussionist for The Dallas Symphony Orchestra since 2019 and prior to that was the principal percussionist for the Sarasota Orchestra for eight years. “We’ve developed a great foundation here in Sarasota. It’s been a labor of love, and the community support is what keeps our connections strong. The audience’s enthusiasm drives us.”

Nickson says he’s also excited about including the culmination of EnsembleNewSRQ’s multiseasonal exploration of French spectralism, welcoming back guests including Hanick and collaborating with the Boston-based group Chroma Trio.

He says that other events and series (including an evening of new opera and book readings with Matt Aucoin) will be announced later in the year.

Bennett, who is also the principal second violinist with the Sarasota Orchestra, shares Nickson’s enthusiasm for the upcoming season. She notes that the months of social isolation didn’t silence EnsembleNewSRQ; it inspired the group to incorporate new technological adaptations.

"Last season’s challenges have made us stronger, more diverse and more innovative,” Bennett says. “The silver lining of the pandemic has been an accelerated push towards state-of-the-art video and audio recording capabilities — something that we’ll continue to use well after the return of live audiences.”

While Bennett is proud of these adaptations, she’s also thrilled to be returning to live performances in the real world. 

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I'm the Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Observer. I am a graduate of The University of Vermont and a former Editor-in-Chief of a large weekly newspaper chain in Long Island. Music, Arts and Entertainment permeate my blood.

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