In showcasing culturally and ethnically diverse events, the Cheryl Nelson Lossett Performing Arts Series of Minnesota State University Moorhead can be counted on to present some rather intriguing performances. Last Saturday, the most diverse and different event of the series’ season took the stage at the university, uniting cultures, genres, instruments and arts.
“Music of the Sun,” the collaborative tour of string quartet ETHEL and Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal, unfolded on the Gaede Stage, bringing together two eclectic artists for a show that went beyond simply songs. Stories of the sun from the ancient culture of Native America were brought to life with the artists’ instruments, which when blended, created an unheard combination.
The sweetness of Kip Jones’ and Tema Watstein’s violins supported the haunting eeriness and mystical moods that flowed from Mirabal’s various handmade flutes. Viola Ralph Farris and cello Dorothy Lawson provided a foundation for the music in several of the night’s pieces with Lawson’s low, deep plucks and Farris’ steady supports.
Mirabal’s abilities were the most-marveled at of the night, as his sounds covered a vast spectrum of sentiments from lighthearted anticipation to morbid foreboding. In these songs of the sun, Mirabal stopped several times throughout the performance to provide some history and insight into the Pueblo way of life, some of which came to life in the night’s songs.
Not only the sun was represented in the repertoire. Corn, the coming of spring and growing older were all embodied in the artists’ music. Watstein took a moment to address one song – “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector” – to discuss its subject and if the song is about a little fairy or a giant. There was quite an amount of interaction with the audience during the program, and the performers’ push to get their audience thinking on the music’s meaning made it accessible to all.
Audience interaction went further than stage patter, however. Prior to the performance, Mirabal posed with audience members for photos in the Gaede Stage lobby. Afterwards, he left a basket of corn kernels from his home for audience members to take as part of a Pueblo lesson he shared during the performance.
Hands down, the favorite moment of the night was the group’s encore, “Possessed by Obscurity,” a piece composed by a student at the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project. For nearly a decade, ETHEL had worked right alongside emergent indigenous artists, and this piece, they said, is a concert favorite.
Noticeably more intense than the pieces that came before it, the encore song stole the whole show as ETHEL and Mirabal rocked and rolled on their strings and flute. Farris and Watstein duked it out in a viola/violin showdown while Mirabal fluttered away on his flute to Lawson’s booming cello and Jones’ crisp violin. A standing ovation went all around as the five finished and made for the exit.
Attendance was hardly sellout, as the 330-seat venue was a little over two-thirds full. Those in attendance got just what they wanted, as this phenomenal pairing of two highly skilled artists is unlikely to be matched. Breaking down the walls of what their instruments traditionally do, ETHEL and Robert Mirabal brought collaborative diversity to Moorhead for an arts series that could not have included a better event.
“Music of the Sun” was presented on Jan. 25 at MSUM’s Gaede Stage.