“It’s our second time in the neighborhood,” Ralph Farris, viola-player for the band said. “It’s so good to be back in Hazard.”
The band, whose members have performed and recorded with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, the Gorillaz, and Sheryl Crow, is made up of Farris, Mary Rowell (violin), Cornelius Defallo (second violin), and Dorothy Lawson (cello) – all Julliard-trained musicians.
Ethel opened with “Sunrise over Planetary Dream Collector,” a composition that was created by the man Farris called “the father of the minimalistic movement of music.”
They then dove into another composition by Julia Wolfe.
“Now we’re really going to shock you. If someone is going to walk out on one of our shows, this is the [piece] they do it on - so we’ve asked them to lock the doors,” Rowell joked during the performance.
The composition she spoke of is dominated by minor chords and haunting swells; but on this night, it ended on a note of thunderous applause.
“Sometimes we play soft, too,” Defallo said before introducing three separate movements from the score of “The Hours,” a movie based on the life and work of Virginia Woolf.
Defallo said the score was about “experiencing the beauty of the moment,” a mantra that he said Ethel.
The band spent several days prior to the concert in the area writing and recording with students from HCTC’s Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music (KSBTM), including bands Flickertail Holler and Murphy’s Echo, both of whom opened for Ethel on Thursday. Ethel surprised Murphy’s Echo’s guitarist, Cory May, by performing one of his original compositions, which was met with great enthusiasm by the audience.
“It was amazing,” Jenny Williams, HCTC instructor, said. “I loved hearing them play Cory May’s part.”
The band then brought an unexpected instrument into the mix during the performance of “The Flag Project” – a Tibetan prayer bell. Rowell said the composition was inspired by the practice of hanging colorful flags, or prayer flags, to benefit all those who would pass underneath them and to promote peace.
“They discovered the true meaning of music,” Dean Osborne, head of the KSBTM, said of the band. “Not just the written part, but the soul part.”
Osborne added that the members of Ethel were nervous to be “in the land where fiddles and banjos rule,” so the concert wrapped up with Osborne, students of the KSBTM and Ethel all on stage together incorporating bluegrass.
“They’re great – they love our music and we love theirs,” Fran Sidwell, of Hazard, said. “It’s great to see it all come together.”