It's a rare ensemble that can play Haydn and Debussy with complete command and then shift gears to offer a jazz set of Miles Davis and Chick Corea with equal authority.
The Ebène Quartet, from Paris, has made that its trademark, adding spice to a traditionally fusty corner of classical music. Yet in doing so, it hasn't been shunted to a dubious corner of the crossover market, but instead catapulted into major venues, including Carnegie Hall, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, Vienna's Konzerthaus and London's Wigmore Hall.
The Ebène's fluency in styles is born out of firsthand experience. At one point, all of the members played in non-classical bands: The cellist was a pianist in a jazz quartet, the first violin was a bass player, the second violin a drummer and the violist a funk guitarist. One day in 2007, the Victoires de la Musique, a glossier French equivalent to the Grammy Awards, asked the group to perform the Kronos Quartet's arrangement of "Misirlou," the surf-rock tune featured in Quentin Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction. While the group members at first resisted — it was their first TV appearance, and they wanted to make a serious impression — they eventually gave in. The head of Virgin Classics saw the quartet on TV and snapped it up.
Four years later, Mozart, Debussy and Bartok remain at the core of the Ebène's touring program, yet jazz and pop numbers are also given their due, as heard on their latest album, Fiction. Following in the path of groups like the Turtle Island Quartet and Kronos, the album spans The Beatles ("Come Together") and the soundtrack to Ocean's 12 while showcasing guest artists like soprano Natalie Dessay, jazz vocalist Stacey Kent and Spanish pop singer Luz Casal.
On the Ebène's Greene Space program Monday night is one of the group's signature numbers, "Someday My Prince Will Come," which the players first render by standing up to sing in rich four-part harmony before deftly moving to their seats and playing their instruments.
- Debussy: String Quartet (excerpts)
- Davis: All Blues
- Eden Ahbez: Nature Boy
- Leeds/Wise/Roubanis/Russell: Misirlou
- Piazzolla: Libertango
- Lennon/McCartney: Come Together
- Morey/Churchill: Someday My Prince Will Come