Portfolio Project: The Ciompi Quartet commissions Duke Graduate Composers 2022

Blue, green and yellow logo for the Ciompi Quartet's Portfolio Project 2022
The Ciompi Quartet Portfolio Project began in the summer of 2020 as a way for the Quartet to engage with composers in Duke Music’s graduate program during the COVID-19 pandemic, when live performances were curtailed and composers and performers needed creative outlets for their music. Portfolio Project 2020 was presented by Duke Music’s Best of Biddle virtual series, with the video receiving hundreds of views since its premiere.
The success of the initial project inspired the Ciompi Quartet to continue the Portfolio Project in the summers of 2021 and 2022.

The Ciompi Quartet presented Portfolio Project 2022 as a live concert on January 24, 2023 in the Ruby Lounge of the Rubenstein Arts Center, featuring new works by Duke graduate composers Ethan Foote and Chris Williams.

Ethan Foote, Peace of Montreux

A man standing in a field with a string bass
Ethan Foote

Peace of Montreux, for string quartet, is a disordered meditation on the nature of creativity. (Ethan Foote)

Ethan Foote is a composer and musician rooted in jazz, Euro-American folk music, and the Western classical tradition. From his grounding as a jazz bassist in his hometown of Washington, D.C., he ventured into songwriting, arranging, theatre, and concert music, developing a multidimensional creative practice as a performer-composer that has also been shaped by literature, philosophy, and religion. His work tends to be obliquely expressive, often attempting to analogize musical structures to spiritual ones and playing with the mirroring of form and the structures of human consciousness. 

He received a BA in English from Oberlin College in 2010 and an MFA in Music Composition from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2020.

His commissioned work for Fuse Ensemble, Will There Be Jazz In Hell, premiered in May 2023.


Chris Williams, swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; (a remembrance)

Headshot of a man in a blue shirt
Chris Williams

In February 2022, the Australian composer Nigel Butterley (1935-2022) passed away, and this small remembrance piece was written with him in mind. Nigel was a teacher, a mentor, and a friend, and his passing an enormous loss. The line swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; comes from one of Nigel’s favourite poems, ‘Pied Beauty’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Although Nigel was particularly known for his vocal music and affinity with text, he felt that Hopkins wasn’t suitable for setting to music, in part because of its intricate linguistic texture and own internal music. So rather than setting the words to music, I’ve tried to set music to the words - to find something swift, slow, sweet, sour, adazzle, and dim. The poem praises all things “counter, original, spare, strange," and I hope that the piece does the same, forging its own austere, strange, and beautiful ‘internal music’ for these words. (Chris Williams)

Chris Williams is an Australian composer. He completed his undergraduate studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and a Master of Philosophy in composition at the University of Oxford. In 2012 he was commissioned by Carnegie Hall where he worked with composer-in residence Kaija Saariaho. Previously, Chris was one of only six composers worldwide to be selected by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to attend his Advanced Composition course at the Dartington International Summer School. He has received commissions from the Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, The Song Company, and the New Bristol Sinfonia.

Williams was the inaugural Friends of the National Library of Australia Creative Arts Fellow. He is an Associate Artist at the Australian Music Centre.

Recognizing the value of this commissioning initiative, the Portfolio Project will continue in the summer of 2023 with works by a new cohort of Duke graduate composers.

The Ciompi Quartet serves as Quartet in Residence at Duke University and its members (Eric Pritchard and Hsiao-Mei Ku, violins; Jonathan Bagg, viola and Caroline Stinson, cello) are Professors of the Practice in the Department of Music. More information at ciompi.org.