PRISM Quartet

Color Theory Concert: PRISM Quartet and Partch

Color Theory is inspired by the spirit in which scientists and visual artists have studied color throughout the centuries. In 1671–72, Sir Isaac Newton discovered the origin of color by shining a beam of light through a prism, splitting it into the colors of a rainbow. Visual artists have used color theory to develop a body of knowledge about mixing pigments to create color combinations that provoke powerful emotional responses.

The PRISM Quartet’s project uses color theory as a framework to explore the spectra that make up instrumental sound by spurring the creation of a new body of music combining saxophones and percussion, including reconstructed Harry Partch instruments, originally built by the American composer/inventor from 1930–1972. Partch’s “Instrumentariam” is full of fantastical, visually striking creations such as the eucal blossom, spoils of war, and cloud chamber bowls. The project pioneers new possibilities of orchestration and musical color with first-time instrumental pairings that represent enormous unexplored potential.

Harry Partch with cloud chamber bowls

Harry Partch with cloud chamber bowls

PRISM and the Grammy-winning ensemble Partch (in its East Coast debut) premiere new works by Ken Ueno and Stratis Minankakis for saxophones and Harry Partch instruments. “Of all the triumphantly weird characters who have roamed the frontiers of American art, none ever went quite as far out as the composer Harry Partch,” notes New Yorker critic Alex Ross. Finding no instruments capable of producing the sounds he imagined, Partch invented his own. The instruments use microtones, dividing the octave into 43 tones. Harry Partch famously held J. S. Bach responsible for a downhill trend in music: “the movement toward equal-tempered tuning, which meant that composers could not absorb the scales of other world traditions.” Commissioned works draw upon and extend this rich compositional tradition. Ueno’s work, “Future Lilacs,” features Derek Johnson on the adapted electric guitar. Also on the program: “Castor & Pollux” by Harry Partch, “Xas” by Iannis Xenakis, and Radical Alignment from “15 Places At The Same Time” by Steve Lehman.


Radical Alignment from 15 Places At The Same Time (2014) by Steve Lehman (b. 1978)

XAS (1987) by Iannis Xenakis (1922 – 2001)

CASTOR & POLLUX, A Dance for the Twin Rhythms of Gemini (1952) by Harry Partch (1901 – 1974)


Future Lilacs (2016, world premiere) by Ken Ueno (b. 1970)

Skiagrafies (Shadow Etchings) (2016, world premiere) by Stratis Minakakis (b. 1979)



Partch is a Grammy-winning ensemble that specializes in the music & instruments of the iconoclastic American Maverick composer Harry Partch who, between 1930 and 1972, created one of the most amazing bodies of sensually alluring and emotionally powerful music of the 20th century. Partch wrote music drama, dance theater, multi-media extravaganzas, vocal music and chamber music—all to be performed on the extraordinary orchestra of instruments that he designed and built himself. Since their formation in 1991 to perform the music of Lou Harrison and Harry Partch, the group has gone on to commission and premiere works by Larry Polansky, Mamoru Fujieda, John Luther Adams, Mari Takano, Sasha Bogdonawitsch, James Tenney and others. They toured Japan under the auspices of the American Embassy’s prestigious Interlink Festival, performed for Chamber Music in Historic Sites, the LA County Museum of Art, UCLA’s Partch Centennial Celebration, Sacramento’s Festival of New American Music, Minnesota Public Radio’s American Mavericks, Mills College, UNM Albuquerque, the Getty Center, Repertory Dance Theatre RDT Salt Lake City, Carlsbad Music Festival, Jacaranda Music, the Guadalajara International Book Fair, Grand Performances, and the San Francisco Symphony. In 2004, they made their Disney Hall/REDCAT debut premiering Harry Partch’s Bitter Music, and have returned every year since.

Intriguing programs of great beauty and breadth have distinguished the PRISM Quartet as one of America’s foremost chamber ensembles. Two-time winners of the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, PRISM has been presented by Carnegie Hall, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and as soloists with the Detroit Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra. Champions of new music, PRISM has commissioned over 200 works, many by internationally celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning composers and today’s leading jazz artists. PRISM’s discography includes fourteen recordings for the Albany, Innova, Koch, Naxos, New Dynamic, and New Focus labels. PRISM may also be heard on the soundtrack of the film Two Plus One and has been featured in the theme music to the weekly PBS news magazine “NOW.” PRISM performs exclusively on Selmer saxophones and mouthpieces.


Ken Ueno

Ken Ueno

Ken Ueno: My work, “Future Lilacs,” will metaphorically connect to color theory in blending different temperaments. It is the scientific reduction of sounds to a common denominator (thinking in terms of frequencies rather than scales) that helps me with this approach, which I consider a Newtonian way of rationalizing the ineffable.

Efstratios Minakakis

Efstratios Minakakis

Stratis Minakakis: My work, “Skiagrafies (Shadow Etchings),” will explore the musical dimensions of the dichotomy between what Goethe describes as “uncolored” versus “colored” shadows. What does it mean to construct such shadows of a sound?

Original support for Color Theory was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. This program is presented with generous support from The MAP Fund, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University; New Music USA; the National Endowment for the Arts; and Conn-Selmer, Inc. PRISM Quartet, Inc. also receives generous support from the Amphion Foundation, New Music USA’s Cary New Music Performance Fund, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., and individual donors.

509 Atlantic Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217

June 12, 2016
7:30 PM

22 general admission/$17 students for advance purchases only. $25 general admission/$20 students at door. ONLINE SALES ARE NOT AVAILABLE ON DAY OF SHOW. PLEASE PURCHASE TICKETS AT THE DOOR ON JUNE 12.

Box office contact info: