Jennifer Choi: Yes, I just joined in June, end of May.
What's it like joining a group with such a lengthy history, especially replacing a member who'd been with the group for 15 years?
Since the beginning, yeah. Well, I had known about the group for a long time. When I came to New York in '98, that's pretty much when they formed, as well. And I was pretty much doing the same kind of music — new music — and that kind of became my focus after a while. So I guess the transition felt pretty normal for me, and it seemed like the right thing to do. I worked with Neil — Corneilius Duffalo, the other violinist — as well as Ralph Farris, the violist, in other situations, 'cause you tend to bump into each other in New York City. So it just felt pretty good to be able to join a group like that. And it just feels really nice, because they have their repertoire and they're really solid players, so it's like playing tennis with a really great tennis player. You just sort of fit right in.
I find it interesting that Ethel — and you, as a solo performer — has played more modern classical music, which is such an interesting phrase. How would you describe the idea of “modern classical” to the layperson?
Well, we're still using the same old format, which is the string quartet that Hayden and Mozart used — that they invented, basically — but we're putting our own twist to it, so you'll hear sounds … we're using harmonies still, and we're using sounds that have been around, but we're adding new sounds to it. So sometimes, it can be on edge, or more adventurous, maybe? And sort of breaking through some of the genres, so it's not just classical-sounding. It might have elements of jazz, experimental rock, and oftentimes we use electronics, as well.
So you've got prerecorded sounds when we do that. Sometimes it's synthesizer, sometimes it's vocal, sometimes it's just computer music. So what we're bringing in is elements of what you're hearing today — say, on your iPod, you know? In shuffle mode. So it can really be a mix of any genres.
Well, I think, I think that it's the nature of the string instruments, that they're able to do all of those sounds. We can imitate the voice, we can imitate the banjo sometimes, if need be, or the accordion. Especially the string quartet, because then we can build upon each note, so just the possibilities are immense, basically. I think what you're hearing is the ability to go into those styles with what we have.
Your instrument, the violin is certainly … adjustable, let's say. In the concert hall, it's a violin, but in a beer hall, it's a fiddle. Now ... in your six months with Ethel, has it proved to be different from your solo career?
Gosh, I was just thinking about that. I just love that we're sharing in the spirit of the music, first of all. You're sharing it with three other people, so I feel like there's an automatic raise in the dynamics — in dynamism — that you can express when you've got three other people and three other stringed instruments, so you're basically just multiplying the sounds by four. Instead of four strings, I've got 16.
For me, it becomes really exciting to perform with that energy, and you're giving off that much more to the audience, too. And, I love solo, as well — solo has its own rewards in that maybe you can be technically more challenging and more concentrated in the form of challenge, because you have to give all of that by yourself. The music's different, too. The music is definitely — the kind of music I play in solo, anyway — is maybe even more experimental and more avant-garde than we're doing right now with Ethel. Which isn't to say that we won't be doing that in the future with Ethel, but I think that music that I was doing was more searching and made the audience look for meaning more outside of the box.
With Ethel, you're hearing stuff that is maybe a little more familiar. It's still new, but you're like, “Oh! I've heard this before,” in the Irish reel that you're talking about. And we have played with a banjo player, and now we're playing with a a Native American flute player, so you're hearing sounds you may have heard somewhere, but then we're bringing it all together in this form.
Addendum, 2011.11.17 3:00 p.m. We were just informed by the Lied Center that "Jennifer will not be appearing due to a family emergency. Ana Milosavljevic will be substituting this evening for Jennifer Choi." You can find information about Ms. Milosavljevic at her website.