Denison University will recognize the college’s artists-in-residence, ETHEL, by conferring honorary degrees, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, on the four members of the acclaimed contemporary string quartet. The degrees will be awarded during the college’s 176th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 13, 2017. ETHEL also will provide the keynote at the ceremony. The musicians comprising ETHEL have been Denison’s artists-in-residence over the last two years, and the relationship will extend through the 2017-2018 academic year. In addition, the college will confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, upon publisher and philanthropist Scott Schurz, a member of the Denison Class of 1957 and a member of the executive committee and board as well as honorary president for life of the Inter-American Press Association.
“ETHEL’s residency has profoundly impacted our students across the academic disciplines,” said Denison University President Adam Weinberg. “Their scholarship moves well beyond the beauty and talent of their musicality. They have embraced the liberal arts ethos of the college and deepened the education of our students. Their work has created incredible learning moments for our students, faculty and staff.”
“My colleagues and I are humbled by this extraordinary honor,” said ETHEL founding member Ralph Farris, who is the groups co-artistic director and violist. “ETHEL’s residency at Denison University has brought us one inspiring experience after another — conversations, explorations, collaborations, performances — all in service of the school’s ‘firm belief in human dignity and compassion unlimited by cultural, racial, sexual, religious or economic barriers.’ It is truly a gift to be welcomed into this community.”
Along with Farris, ETHEL violinist Kip Jones, cellist and co-artistic director Dorothy Lawson, and violinist Corin Lee will be receiving their honorary doctorates in May.
Schurz has been a leading voice in Indiana as a president and publisher of the Bloomington Herald-Times and vice president and director of Schurz Communications, a media firm operating radio, television, cable, and newspapers in ten states. A member of the International Press Institute and the World Press Freedom Committee, he served as president of the International Newspaper Marketing Association in 1986, and held the office of treasurer from 1997 to 2004. In 2009 he was the recipient of the Ralph D. Casey award given by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Schurz has been a member of the board of the Hoosier State Press Association and served as president in 1989 and 1997, and was awarded the HSPA Distinguished Service Award in 1998 and the First Freedom Award in 2002. In 2003, he was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, and in 2005 received the Indiana Journalism Award presented by Ball State University.
Established in New York City in 1998, ETHEL earned a reputation as one of America’s most adventurous string quartets. Part of a generation of young artists blending uptown, conservatory musicianship with downtown genre crossing, ETHEL plays with the intensity and accoutrements of a rock band. The New York Times has described them as “indefatigable and eclectic,” and The New Yorker has deemed them “vital and brilliant.” Nearly two decades into their singular career, ETHEL has in turn become seminal in its own right, a path breaker for countless younger genre-spanning ensembles and a prolific commissioner of new music.
“ETHEL has been a game changer at Denison,” said Michael Morris, director of the college’s Vail Series and fine arts programming. “Two years into their three-year residency, they have built long-term relationships that have resulted in truly meaningful and significant collaborations with our students and faculty.”
In addition to premiering 21st century works by a broad range of groundbreaking composers, ETHEL creates and tours rich, often multimedia, productions in which community engagement is a key element. Among their current and recent evening-length works are ETHEL’s “Documerica,” inspired by the tens of thousands of images shot as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s decade-long “Project Documerica; Grace,” featuring ETHEL’s arrangements of music by Ennio Morricone and Jeff Buckley; “Blue Dress,” which pays special homage to women making their musical mark on the 21st century; “The River,” a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal, released as an album in June 2016.
ETHEL has collaborated with artists including David Byrne, Bang on a Can All Stars, Kaki King, Todd Rundgren, Carlo Mombelli, Ursula Oppens, Juana Molina, Tom Verlaine, STEW, Ensemble Modern, Jill Sobule, Dean Osborne, Robert Mirabal, Howard Levy, Simone Sou, Andrew Bird, Iva Bittová, Colin Currie, Thomas Dolby, Jeff Peterson, Oleg Fateev, Stephen Gosling, Jake Shimabukuro, Polygraph Lounge and Vijay Iyer.
The quartet regularly performs works by all of the members of the ensemble, alongside music by Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, David Lang, Dan Friel, Mary Ellen Childs, John King, Raz Mesinai, John Zorn, Missy Mazzoli, Anna Clyne, Steve Reich, Kenji Bunch, Don Byron, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Marcelo Zarvos, Pamela Z, Evan Ziporyn and Terry Riley. Over the past five years, ETHEL has premiered 150+ new works, many of them commissioned by the quartet.
In addition to being Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University, ETHEL is the Resident Ensemble at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar.
More information about ETHEL can be found online at ethelcentral.org.