String quartet, Grammy-winning Native American musician to present ‘The River’


August 26, 2019

The ETHEL string quartet and Robert Mirabal, a Native American musician, instrument builder and Grammy award winner, will present “The River” to open the 2019-20 SUNY Oswego Artswego performing arts series at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in Tyler Hall’s Waterman Theatre.

The audience will be immersed in a flow of music, narrative and ritual that evokes timeless Native American traditions through contemporary musical artistry. The program will showcase instrumental virtuosity, song and storytelling to evoke the magic and majesty of the water and spirit that connects all life, said Miranda Traudt, SUNY Oswego’s director of arts programming.  

The appearance comes thanks to an interdisciplinary partnership of Artswego with academic programs in English and creative writing, music and Native American studies, and dovetails with Fresh Water for All, the current campus-wide Grand Challenge. The performance and residency are supported in part by a Grand Challenges mini-grant.

Acclaimed performers

Billed as New York City’s most adventurous string quartet, ETHEL “prizes grittiness and punch as absolute values, but these expert players can produce a conventionally warm, unified tone when the music demands it,” noted The New York Times, which has also referred to them as “a high-octane chamber group” that “plays their repertoire vigorously and cultivates a persona closer to (that) of a rock band than of a conventional string quartet.” The group had a successful previous visit to SUNY Oswego teaming with guitarist, singer and songwriter Kaki King.

Mirabal earned Grammy awards for his albums “Sacred Ground” (2006) and “Johnny Whitehorse Totemic Flute Chants” (2008), was named Native American Artist of the Year twice and earned three Songwriter of the Year honors for his soundscapes that conjure up both the historic and contemporary West. In addition to the music and instruments he creates, Mirabal is also a celebrated painter, poet, actor and playwright, as well as the author of two books: “A Skeleton of a Bridge” -- a collection of poetry, prose and short stories -- and his recent memoir “Running Alone in Photographs.”

“The River” came together as the next step of an ongoing collaboration between ETHEL and Mirabal, as the musicians held a retreat together at Mirabal’s home on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. The artists brought original musical or poetic works with special significance to the group, additionally influenced by the sound of nature around them:  the rushing waters of Rio Pueblo, storms, howling coyotes and more. Influences came from Hawaii, Arizona, Mexico, Ecuador, Morocco, Nigeria, India, Mongolia, Tibet, Japan and the country of Georgia. 

Additional outreach

In addition to the public concert, Artswego performers traditionally share their expertise and creativity with SUNY Oswego students and interested community members. Mirabal will speak as part of the Living Writers Series at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11 in Marano Campus Center auditorium; the event is free and open to the public. 

ETHEL will meet with students in the “Advanced Music Theory” and “Intro to Music Listening” classes during their residency, talking about contemporary compositions influenced by popular or folk traditions from around the world, contemporary performance problems and techniques, and career building for indie and classical musicians. 

Tickets for the Waterman Theatre concert cost $20 for the general public; $15 for SUNY Oswego faculty, staff and alumni; and $5 for SUNY Oswego students, other students and children. Tickets are available online at, at any SUNY Oswego box office or by calling 315-312-3073.

For more information on performing arts events at SUNY Oswego, visit

Musical flow -- The ETHEL string quartet and Grammy-winning Native American musician Robert Mirabal will present “The River” to open the 2019-20 SUNY Oswego Artswego performing arts series at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in Tyler Hall’s Waterman Theatre. The performance dovetails with the current campus-wide Grand Challenge: Fresh Water for All.