1. In Ancient Greek music theory, tones of indefinite pitch and intervals with complex ratios, tones "not appropriate for musical usage." In New York City, a new vocal ensemble dedicated to breathing life into those disallowed tones, new and old.
2. A "brilliant young ensemble... defining a fresh and virtuosic American sound" – The New Yorker
Ekmeles—praised for their “extraordinary sense of pitch” by the New York Times, and called a "brilliant young ensemble, defining a fresh and virtuosic American sound" by The New Yorker—is dedicated to the performance of new and rarely-heard works, and gems of the historical avant garde. New York is home to a vibrant instrumental New Music scene, with a relative paucity of vocal music. Ekmeles, made up of a core roster of six singers, was founded to fill the gap by presenting new a cappella repertoire for solo voices, and by collaborating with these instrumental ensembles.
Ekmeles are a phenomenon. They already stand among the brightest and best of a small international group of vocal ensembles dedicated to creating the future of vocal art, and are perhaps unsurpassed as interpreters of microtonality in vocal music, a painstaking labour requiring the utmost expertise, concentration and determination, one which brings out the best in this unique group of singers. Their repertoire is wide-ranging, diverse and progressive, and the generosity and imagination they show towards so many composers and their musical visions, no matter how fragile, knotty or downright abstruse, are truly exemplary. I’ve been privileged to work with them on my own music, and am proud to think of them as colleagues in vocal research with my own ensemble. They are completely deserving recipients of this prize – congratulations, Jeff and all of Ekmeles!
James Weeks, composer and director of EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, UK
As part of their work expanding the possibilities of tuning and technique in vocal music, Ekmeles has given world premieres by composers including John Luther Adams, Katherine Balch, Taylor Brook, Courtney Bryan, Ann Cleare, Zosha di Castri, Nick Dunston, Erin Gee, Martin Iddon, Hannah Kendall, Jessie Marino, Marc Sabat, Christopher Trapani and James Weeks. They look forward to upcoming premieres by Georg Friedrich Haas and George Lewis. Ekmeles has a special focus on commissioning and performing works in non-standard tuning systems, and exploring historical tunings and temperaments. Their work in this realm has included microtonal ragas over sine wave drones, madrigals in a 31- tone 15th century keyboard tuning, and American folk songs arranged in 7-limit just intonation.
Ekmeles is unique, an uncompromising ensemble of singers that I have been fortunate to work with for a decade now. I will be forever grateful to the way Ekmeles and their director, Jeffrey Gavett, have not only championed my work, but how they have brought dozens of contemporary vocal works to life.
Taylor Brook, Composer
In addition to creating their own repertoire, Ekmeles is dedicated to bringing the best of contemporary vocal music to the United States that would otherwise go unheard. They have given US premieres by composers including Joanna Bailie, Carola Bauckholt, Aaron Cassidy, Beat Furrer, Stefano Gervasoni, Evan Johnson, Bernhard Lang, Liza Lim, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Lucia Ronchetti, Wolfgang Rihm, Rebecca Saunders, Salvatore Sciarrino, Mathias Spahlinger, and Agatha Zubel.
“The singers of Ekmeles are some of the most talented, generous, adventurous, and precise musicians I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Their uncanny ability to execute challenging microtonal music and works with electronics to great expressive ends never fails to amaze and move me. Beyond their musicianship, I value their dedication to building sustained, meaningful collaborative relationships. When a new work is written for them, they often program it many times over multiple seasons, allowing it to mature and ripen – an experience we don’t often give new music. I first wrote for Ekmeles nearly a decade ago and was inspired to undertake a vocal timelapse writing for their voices every 10 years, while seeing how our sounds age together over time. It is deeply inspiring to think of what music might evolve from this kind of long-lasting, close partnership, and for that I am very grateful.”
Zosha Di Castri, composer
Collaborations with other musical ensembles and artists has been a part of Ekmeles’s work from the very beginning. In their first several seasons they gave the US premieres of Luigi Nono’s Quando stanno morendo with AMP New Music, and Beat Furrer’s FAMA with Talea Ensemble. Their collaborations with Mivos Quartet include the US premieres of Stefano Gervasoni’s Dir - In Dir and Wolfgang Rihm’s concert-length ET LUX. Ekmeles joined with members of Tilt Brass and loadbang for the US premiere of Mathias Spahlinger’s monumental über den frühen tod fräuleins anna augusta markgräfin zu baden, and Wolfgang Rihm’s SKOTEINÓS.
I've always been interested in what it means to be in tune. Ekmeles has been my primary outlet for this exploration, leading to the performances and premieres of works that explore microtones in myriad ways. Learning these microtonal scores takes extensive personal preparation and group rehearsal, as we learn new ways of singing and hearing together. This support from Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation will help us to fairly compensate our musicians for this unique artistic labor, and to give us the space to dream about what singing together can be.
Jeffrey Gavett, baritone and director of Ekmeles
Ekmeles also collaborates beyond the traditional concert stage, including the integration of singers into choreographic works with New Chamber Ballet, and a staged memorized performance of David Lang’s little match girl passion at the MET Breuer Museum directed by Tony award winning director Rachel Chavkin. They also gave sold-out performances with Oliver Beer’s Vessel Orchestra, the first sound-based installation commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Director Jeffrey Gavett performed at the keyboard of this instrument, composed of 32 resonant hollow objects spanning 7,000 years of the museum’s collection. In 2022 they recorded for Camille Norment's installation Plexus at DIA Chelsea, and they sang as part of John Luther Adams’s installation work Veils and Vesper, broadcast on WNYC’s New Sounds.
"Jeff, our music director, approached me over a decade ago, to tell me about a new ensemble he was creating. I have been with Ekmeles since its second performance, and those not-so-glamorous days are clearly etched in my mind. Rehearsals for that early concert were in the middle of winter, in a remote corner of New York City, in a building with almost no heat, for little money. But I believed in Jeff’s passion, and his vision for founding a group that was pushing the limits for what a vocal ensemble could be, and for what the human voice could do - and so I stayed. It has been an honor and a joy to watch this ensemble grow in so many ways, and particularly to see all of the relationships we have developed with living composers, and all the works we have been fortunate enough to commission. I truly believe that Ekmeles is performing and creating music that almost no one else is doing, and we are incredibly grateful for the recognition and support of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, that will allow us to continue amplifying the voices of these composers, and to share their unique and thrilling work with the world."
Steven Hrycelak, bass of Ekmeles
In January of 2020 they released their debut album A howl, that was also a prayer on New Focus Recordings, with works by Taylor Brook, Erin Gee, and Christopher Trapani. Fanfare magazine said the album's performances were "beyond expert – almost frightening in their precision.”
In the spring of 2020 through May 2021, Ekmeles continued to bring their performances to audiences in authentic ways despite the difficulty of singing together. They performed innovative streaming concerts that combined elements of video art created by members of the ensemble, pre-recorded performances, and live synchronous online performing. Ensemble members performed simultaneously from San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York.
Singing with Ekmeles has been one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my career so far. This ensemble asks its members, collaborators, and listeners alike to reach beyond their comfort zone; to accept new sonic and physical realities beyond what they thought was possible. What I have learned about tuning and musicianship from Ekmeles has positively influenced every other aspect of my musical life. EvS support will help us to reach even more listeners and continue to push ourselves, knowing that we have the resources we need in order to operate at our fullest potential.
Charlotte Mundy, soprano of Ekmeles