Composer Michael Ellison isn’t fooling around. His “String Quartet #2” has the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and emotional depth of late Beethoven or Bartok. The seven-movement piece evolves gracefully, using thematic material that reappears transformed, but with haunting familiarity. Borromeo String Quartet gives the 35-minute composition the kind of committed performance that would surely bring a smile to the composer’s face. Full of dynamic subtleties, finely shaded changes in timbre and passionately engaged ensemble playing, the piece resonates with the eloquent emotion the composer wove into the fabric of this gorgeous composition. “Invocation-Meditation-Allegro” for solo flute shows Ellison’s involvement with Turkish Sufi music, with its ney-like sonorities brought to life by the virtuoso performance of Helen Bledsoe. Finally, “Elif” is an amazing synthesis of a master hafiz (a reciter of the Quran) and new music. The result is otherworldly, a mystical atmosphere of devotion and its transformation of consciousness. Invocation illustrates the depth of Ellision’s commitment to absorbing Turkish spiritual music and the Sufi quest for transcendence and union with the beloved.

–Glen Hall, Exclaim! Canada’s Music Authority

Although Michael Ellison is well known among folks in the more artsy music circles, most listeners are probably not familiar with his music…despite the fact that he has won numerous awards for his compositions over the years. Invocation is a mighty big dose of smart modern classical music. The album is divided into three parts. “String Quartet #2” features the incredible talents of the Borromeo String Quartet (the piece is divided into seven separate segments). Beautiful, subtle, and mesmerizing stuff. “Invocation-Meditation-Allegro” features the very focused and intense flautist Helen Bledsoe. The album ends with “Elif,” a really peculiar composition featuring the strange vocals of Kani Karaca. This is obviously totally eclectic stuff…so if you’re looking for classical music that is predictable and easy to swallow you won’t find it here. Hypnotic and slightly drifting… Top pick (five stars).

Baby Sue

Topping off the program were the Mistico Andante and Presto movements from Michael Ellison’s 2nd string quartet. Ellison’s luminous work, which is an amalgam of Eastern and Western ideas, made an exquisite finale for the concert. We left Borusan Müzik Evi with the feeling that Istanbul is surely worthy to be the European Capital of Culture 2010.

–Feyzi Erçin, Andante (Turkey)

Puis un très beau triptyque pour flûte solo (Helen Bledsoe, tout à fait convaincante)

A beautiful triptych for solo flute (Helen Bledsoe, totally convincing)

–François Couture,  Monsieur Délire

The 12 musicians of Kardes Türküler and the 38 musicians of Sayat Nova choir as a musical force of 50 together onstage comprised an ensemble of unbelievable artistry. They sang in Turkish, Armenian, Kurdish, Arabic, Romanian, and Laz.  The biggest highlight of the concert was the premiere of Michael Ellison’s composition Güvercinleri Vurmazlar (In This Country They Don’t Harm Pigeons)

—Müjgan Halis, Sabah (Istanbul)


Gong. “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan…” began Michael Ellison’s intense setting of the famous poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. A starkly dramatic and sensual instrumentation surrounded the two singers, who alternated between sustained lyrical lines and spoken declarations. Coleridge’s languid and evocative poem, his “opium dream,” was well served by Ellison’s use of juxtaposed explosive and mellifluous textures to conjure an orientalist fantasy punctured by modern reality bites. The harp’s strumming to the words “It was an Abyssinian maid, And on her dulcimer she played,” one of the most sublime moments, was then obliterated with “Beware, Beware!…” a sufficient warning for its excesses. “For he on honey-dew hath fed / And drunk the milk of Paradise.” Gong.

Alexandra Ivanoff, Today’s Zaman, Istanbul

Ellison now resides in Istanbul, a fact not lost on a listener in taking in the Scherzo from the Second String Quartet, which got the concert underway. The flavors of the Middle East drift in and out and through this music, music that is quicksilver in nature and obviously most demanding in terms of coordination and balances. The Borromeo made a strong case for it, enough so that one looks forward to some day hearing the whole of the quartet.

—Peter Jacobi, Herald Times Online, Indiana University

Almost far-Eastern exoticism in its orchestration, composition is dense and eclectic in technique…This is a beautifully crafted piece, and is here given an extraordinarily fine (idiomatic and virtuosic) performance.

—William Zagorski, Fanfare

Turkish elements surface not as exotic ornaments but as integral features of the composition. Eastern and Western rhythms not only alternate freely but, in the “whirling dervish” fourth-movement scherzo, actually are superimposed, to delightful effect.

—Anna Crebo, Cape Cod Times

The solo writing was excellent and virtuosic, interwoven with the orchestra in dense textures….

—Robert Commanday, San Francisco Chronicle

Michael Ellison’s …Before All Beginning, a setting of one of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, is quite lovely in its delicate scoring and excellent writing for the voice.

Vivica Genaux sings the Ellison beautifully…

—Richard Burke, Fanfare

Like the best of the so-called “post-modernist” composers, Ellison seems to move effortlessly from tonal to atonal music, from the poignantly lyrical to incisive dissonance, without compromising the essence of his piece. It’s the sort of “stream-of-consciousness” approach evident in Beethoven’s late quartets, particularly his Op. 131, which Ellison lists as one of his main inspirations. So smooth is the marriage between the contemporary and the traditional in Ellison’s quartet that highly dissonant passages, which usually have audience members grinding their teeth, are taken in stride as the adrenaline-producing “white-water” phase of the journey. From the opening passages – a dramatic series of intensive, energy-gathering upward gestures that repeatedly disintegrate into shower patterns of notes – it becomes increasingly evident that the piece constitutes the composer’s own artistic journey from initial “fits and starts” to a creative assimilation of multicultural influences.

—Anna Crebo, Cape Cod Times

Michael Ellison’s short Elegy that also adds an alto and baritone saxophone is a lovely thing, quiet and wonderfully integrated in its clever scoring, which masks some of the “normal” tonal properties we usually associate with saxophones.

—Steven Ritter,

Michael Ellison’s Two Movements for String Orchestra featured a high, intense cello solo leading to rhythmic twists, shouts and snaps in 7/16 which put these gutsy string players on their mettle. Fragmentary oratory from a violist yielded a solemn epiphany of antiphony as pairs of notes (higher, shorter, and accented—followed by lower, longer and syncopated) built in crescendo.

—Mark Alburger, Commuter Times

Michael Ellison, a native of Marin, gave us his Overture to Henry V, inspired by the Shakespeare play. Ellison, a graduate of the England Conservatory, just completed a three months’ fellowship at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Premiered by the TV/Radio Orchestra of Bratislava, a solo violinist was the protagonist for this piece that takes on the character of a concerto.

—San Francisco Chronicle

Henry V is dramatic, at times dissonant, freely tonal music with strong accents. It packs into its 5:45 time span all the human drama and tragedy of Shakepeare’s play. As I was listening, I was reminded of the opening chorus lines of the play: “O, for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention…” The work is also a miniature violin concerto and Lydia Forbes is the excellent soloist. Is the solo violin the voice of Henry V? A robust, absorbing work.

—Diederik DeJong, American Record Guide

Michael Ellison’s ‘Turkish’ Concerto, 219, whose title is in reference and deference Mozart’s ‘Turkish’ Violin Concerto, K. 219, is one work which truly achieves a synthesis of East and West.

—Serhan Bali, NTV Radio Turkey

The first time a work has ever been commissioned and composed for such forces…

—Suzy Klein, BBC Radio 3


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