Bow & Hammer interweave classical music and visual art
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It is chamber music with a difference.
That might be the best way to describe the Eleve series devised by Bow & Hammer, the wittily named duo comprised of Katryn (Kit) Satoh (the “bow,” on violin) and Elizabeth Newkirk (the “hammer,” on piano).
The series is about to begin its second season with a concert on Oct. 18 that will open with a performance of Mozart’s “Sonata in E Minor for Violin and Piano.” It will then move on to the evening’s centerpiece, Bela Bartok’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in C major,” which will feature an all-important additional element in the form of an environment-altering installation by visual artist Yasmin Ali.
The event will unfold at Ovation Chicago, the hip loft space in the West Fulton neighborhood (with collaboration from Rhine Hall Distillery, the nearby small-batch, family-owned handcrafted distillery). And the goal is to mix top-notch musicmaking with elements that will break from the standard formality of classical music concerts.
ELEVE WITH BOW & HAMMER
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 18
Where: Ovation Chicago, 2324 W. Fulton
Tickets: $15 – $20
“The word ‘eleve’ can be translated as ‘elevated,’ and the French use it when talking about slow cooking,” said Newkirk, noting that in addition to visual artists, the duo’s guest performers can include poets, actors, and other instrumentalists, all gathered to create an unconventional and uniquely social experience with chamber music at its core. “That sense of ‘eleve’ is a great source of inspiration for us — an idea that carries through to all our work, and connects to making locally sourced, environmentally aware choices that result in a higher level product throughout every aspect of our operation.”
Ali, whose roots are Pakistani, is a Chicago-based multimedia artist whose first art form was singing and songwriting with her band, Slowbots, which performed in Chicago’s 2013 World Music Festival at the Old Town School of Folk Musica with Nawal. She also has performed at the House of Blues and SPACE, and has an ongoing relationship with the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band on their musical interfaith endeavor, The Salaam Shalom Project. At the same time, Ali has been developing her focus on multimedia installations through Mozawa, a Chicago-based incubator focused on artistic collaboration between the mediums. And as part of that incubator she has worked on a yearlong development of Strindberg’s “Dream Play” that was featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art and at High Concept Labs at Mana Contemporary.
Ali’s installation for the Bartok is a work of textile art in three parts, and she explains her thinking about it this way: “A defining characteristic behind the immigrant experience is the desire to preserve your heritage. By transplanting one experience onto another, the result of these preservation efforts can be something so entirely removed from the original as to render it strangely familiar and distorted simultaneously.”
“My installation seeks to bring up key questions regarding the asymmetrical alignment of experiences and desires,” Ali explained. “It’s like Bartok’s efforts to capture the folk music traditions of Hungary and Transylvania: What does it mean to keep something alive in a place it did not originate from? The lilting melodies of Bartok’s sonata inspired me to utilize materials and processes from my own upbringing, but in a way that could re-frame their purpose. As in all my textile work, the fabric has been up-cycled from my own family. The wood and hardware is an homage to the medium of the everyman.”
How did Satoh and Newkirk form their musical partnership?
“We met at a chamber music festival in Orvieto, Italy, in 2010, when we were right out of school, and by 2014 we were back there playing in the festival,” said Newkirk.
Trained as a vocalist and violinist, Satoh has worked with theaters, opera companies, composers, poets, actors, and multi-disciplinary companies “to premiere, preserve, or adapt works of diverse genres ranging from cabaret bar songs to the large-scale symphonic orchestral repertoire.” She holds two Bachelor of Music degrees with distinction from the University of Colorado in Violin and Voice Performance and lists her “spare moment” activities as “reading and watching memoirs, eating home-cooked meals, being outdoors, and embarking on adventures with friends.”
Newkirk grew up on her family’s farm in Indiana and came to Chicago to pursue studies in piano performance. She received her BA from Columbia College and her Master of Music degree from Roosevelt University with a minor in Collaborative Piano. And as she puts it, “When not in the thick of rehearsals or performance, I enjoy cooking, supporting my colleagues, and running with my cattle dog, Lady.”
Both musicians are fervent believers in collaboration, with Satoh viewing chamber music “as a timeless manifestation of social progress,” and Newkirk, an entrepreneur and activist as well as a musician, “dedicated to creating concerts that mirror the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of the slow food movement, and to creating connections and a camaraderie among other disciplines.”
Although this particular Eleve concert is a one-off, Bow & Hammer will give repeat performances of the Bartok elsewhere throughout the season. And plans already are underway for the second of this season’s three Eleve concerts, with a trio by Shostakovich bringing a cello into the violin and piano mix.