Toomai’s Upcoming Album—Stay Tuned!

Ryan Streber, Andrew Roitstein, Erin Wight, Hamilton Berry, Alex Fortes, Emilie-Anne Gendron, Alina Roitstein

This last summer, Toomai went into the studio to record music for our upcoming album! This project features music by all Cuban composers, arranged by Toomai’s bassist Andrew Roitstein.

On select tracks, special guest Alina Roitstein shares her beautiful vocals for some classic salsa and bolero tunes. The album will be released in Spring 2018, and we can’t wait to share it with the world!

Special thanks to engineer extraordinaire Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio for his amazing work!

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Happy 2016 from Toomai!

Although it is already February, Toomai wants to wish everyone a happy 2016! This year marks our 9th year as an ensemble, and it is a time of significant change and progress for Toomai. We would like to reflect on 2015, as well as give an update on all the changes that 2016 brings!
IMG_3525The Early Quintets Project was a huge success last year, as we premiered music written by ten amazing Very Young Composers (ages 10-14), alongside new works by some of the best composers of today. We plan on continuing this program to inspire even more children not only to compose, but to take their music beyond an academic setting and into the forefront of the new music scene. 
In 2015, we joined the roster of Midori and Friends as part of their “Signature Concert Series.” This collaboration aligns well with Toomai’s mission, as both organizations are dedicated to bringing high quality interactive concerts into schools. Midori and Friends has projects in over 32 New York City schools–we are honored to be a part of this massive effort. 
shapeimage_1Toomai welcomes our newest member, cellist Hamilton Berry! We are incredibly excited to have him join our team! Hamilton is an amazing cellist, teaching artist, improviser, composer, and arranger. As Toomai continues to develop programs that combine creating educational workshops, playing music from a variety of cultural traditions, and premiering new works for quintet, Hamilton is a great match for our band. Click here to read more about Hamilton.
Erin and babyNew members of the Toomai family come in all sizes! Violist Erin Wight and her husband Vince are now the proud parents of a baby boy, Nye. Nye is the first “Toomai baby,” and we look forward to days when we get to play with this great kid during our rehearsal breaks! Congratulations to Erin and Vince!
In other news, bassist Andrew Roitstein was named Senior Music Curriculum Specialist for Juilliard Global Ventures; through this project, Andrew has been creating a music curriculum that has already been piloted in 10 schools all over the world, and looks to expand in the fall of 2016.
Within the last six months, violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron has been playing solo and chamber music recitals in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States with Mattias Jacobsson Schulstad, Musicians from Marlboro, and the Momenta Quartet, among other amazing performers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
Please stay tuned for more updates as we plan new performances and educational projects in the year to come!
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Early Quintets Project Announced for 2015

We are thrilled to announce our new endeavor for the Winter and Spring of 2015, the Early Quintets Project! Toomai will curate and perform in a series of workshops and performances in collaboration with New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program (VYC) and SPECTRUM NYCphoto3

We will be working with five prestigious American composers and ten amazing very young composers (ages 10-14) from the New York area. Toomai will help mentor the young composers as they create brand-new works for string quintet, guided also by inspiration from the quintets of our partnering professional colleagues. These workshops will culminate in three concerts at the intimate and innovate new music venue, SPECTRUM NYC, where Toomai will premiere the children’s works alongside the compositions by the professional composers.

The professional composers involved are Elliot Cole, Richard Carrick, Jessie Montgomery, Ted Hearne, and Andrew Roitstein. Performances will take place on January 29th, April 9th, and May 21st of 2015.

This particular project was conceived by Toomai’s bassist, Andrew Roitstein, who has worked closely with VYC’s founder, composer and bassist Jon Deak (photo below).

jon_deak_hm_portraitThe Early Quintets Project is an extension of the work the NY Philharmonic is doing with its young composers, and is being initiated in order to get young composers’ music played by even more ensembles in a larger diversity of venues.

A note from Toomai’s bassist Andrew Roitstein:

“I have worked in different capacities with NY Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program for the last six years, and the process of realizing these children’s music is one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in my career as a musician.  These kids know no artistic boundaries, and being a part of this moment in the young person’s creative process is something that continually gives me artistic and personal insight.”

Toomai has premiered several contemporary string quintets and conducted dozens of projects with young people and throughout the United States. The Early Quintets Project combines two of the things that Toomai loves to do most: create new music and work with young people. This collaboration between Toomai and VYC will help generate a new and important body of music to the string quintet repertoire as well as help cultivate the amazing creative minds of these young composers. Once this has been realized, we hope to continue performing these works, give the pieces of music a life of their own, and inspire even more young people to compose!

The Early Quintets Project will feature Emilie-Anne Gendron and Doori Na on violin, Erin Wight on viola, Hamilton Berry on cello, and Andrew Roitstein on bass.

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Songs Without Words…

In Clarksville, TN

When we’re approached about conducting an educational project at a school or institution new to Toomai, we welcome the opportunity to meet new people and to acquaint ourselves with the community. But it also gives us the chance to design a whole new program especially for that audience — which in turn is an opportunity for us to explore and discover new relationships and connections between different works in our repertoire.

This past month, Toomai spent a few days in Clarksville, TN at Austin Peay State (Home of the Governors!) working with collegiate and high-school age musicians in workshops and masterclasses. We knew these students would also be in the audience at Toomai’s chamber performance, so we designed the concert program with them in mind. We wanted a theme that would enhance music students’ understanding of their own craft, while including the  general (non-musician) population of music lovers in our audience.

Our violist, Erin, assembled a concert program based on pieces in our repertoire that take their inspiration from vocal traditions of all kinds: secular songs, religious choral works, and early music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Because we’re a bass quintet (a rather unusual instrumentation) our list of pieces from the classical canon is limited — so we play lots of arrangements of other works, which makes for a varied and eclectic selection of repertoire, perfect for the purposes of a program like this!

American Protestant music and the Sacred Harp vocal tradition was represented in a string quintet rendition of Henry Cowell’s Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 2. We explored the unique way Renaissance composers wrote for the voice in arrangements of madrigals by Gesualdo, Weelkes and Willaert. Musical realism and street-style troubador singing made for a rollicking good time in Boccherini’s “Night Music of the Streets of Madrid”. The Quintet also ventured to Mexico with our bassist Andrew’s arrangements of classic Mexican popular songs by Manuel Ponce. And Bach’s Goldberg Variations (arranged by Dmitry Sitkovetsky) provided an interesting look into Baroque compositional tools derived from vocal tradition – arias, canons, and folk songs.

Guest Cellist Dr. Eli Lara

We were thrilled to have been invited to Austin Peay, where Dr. Eli Lara, accomplished cellist, academic, and friend of the Quintet from our Juilliard days, is Assistant Professor of Music. Dr. Lara generously agreed to step in for our cellist John, who is on leave (having recently been awarded a Fulbright Study Grant for study in Austria during the 2013-2014 academic year.) We couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator, and are enormously thankful for her artistic contributions to our performance in Clarksville! We were also spoiled by “one of the finest acoustical environments in the Southeast” at Austin Peay’s George and Sharon Mabry Concert Hall.

You can read a review and see photos from Toomai’s performance for the Clarksville Community Concert Association here. Many thanks to Austin Peay State University’s Department of Music and the Clarksville Community Concert Association.

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Beautiful Dreamer…

A view of Union Hall and the Rockport harbor.

Summer usually sends members of Toomai their separate ways — Vermont, Italy, Brazil, San Francisco and Kentucky all played host to us Toomai-ers at various times this summer. But one week in August brought Toomai back together, and the setting couldn’t have been more gorgeous — Rockport, Maine, at the Bay Chamber Festival that happens annually every August. Each day was packed with fantastic collaborations, including performances with members of the Miró Quartet and St. Lawrence Quartet, David Krakauer, Kathleen Tagg, and many other wonderful musicians.

Toomai’s primary collaborative project included soprano Camille Zamora on an original concert program entitled “Beautiful Dreamer”, after the famous Stephen Foster parlor song. John (Toomai’s cellist) and I designed the program to tell a story about the beginnings of modern American art music and the traditional American music that inspired it.

The idea for the program grew out of a piece Toomai already included in Toomai’s repertoire: the Hymn – Largo Cantabile movement from Charles Ives’ “A Set of Three Short Pieces”. While preparing this piece for use in an interactive performance at a performing arts school, I researched the numerous musical quotes in the Hymn, derived from various mid-19th century hymns and parlor songs.  At rehearsal, however, we discovered that John and Erin (our violist) were already personally familiar with some of Ives’ quoted hymns, like Olivet and More Love to Thee.

I became curious about other personal connections Toomai members might have to traditional, mid-19th century American music.  For John, a born-and-bred Kentuckian, the music of Stephen Foster immediately came to mind. Including Foster on the program also seemed particularly fitting, considering Ives’ propensity for quoting Foster in his symphonic works. We asked Brooklyn-based composer Vincent Raikhel to create an arrangement of Beautiful Dreamer especially for Camille and Toomai, and the result was breathtaking and uniquely poignant. Emilie, one of Toomai’s violinists, arranged Kathleen Mavourneen, a song quoted in Ives’ Hymn. Popular during the Civil War, Kathleen Mavourneen also alluded to the Irish ancestry present in 3/5ths of the quintet. John created an instrumental version of More Love to Thee, a hymn he’d been familiar with since childhood. Looking into my own background, I explored Mexican songs popular in 19th century Spanish California, and was particularly inspired by the Alta California Orchestra’s rendition of Es El Amor Mariposa. It was so much fun to hear Camille, a fluent Spanish speaker, bring my arrangement of Mariposa to life.

James Tenney

The West Coast was also represented on program through two major figures in American experimental music: Henry Cowell and James Tenney. Cowell’s Hymn and Fuguing Tune, a surprising turn toward traditionalism for the radical composer, derived inspiration from American Protestant musical traditions and the Sacred Harp style of singing. Tenney’s Quintext, entitledA Choir of Angels for Carl Ruggles”, utilized extreme timbres to create a multitude of otherworldly overtones in a chorale-like setting.

The location of the concert felt particularly fitting — the First Congregational Church in Camden, Maine, founded in 1805. We were truly overwhelmed by our wonderful audience’s response to the repertoire, which at times did challenge the listener (and us as well!). It was a privilege to have been able to share this music that belongs to all of us — and a joy to share a bit about ourselves, in the process.

First Congregational Church. Camden, Maine

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Springtime in Queens…

Queens Library at Flushing

2013 has been a great year for Toomai so far, full of interesting and varied projects, the most recent of which was an appearance on Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concert Series, presented at the Queens Library @ Flushing – which we learned is one of the busiest libraries in the country! It was fantastic to play for a packed theater and a line out the door.
The program was a celebration of Mexican and Cuban composers, including Ernesto Lecuona, the celebrity composer and pianist of Havana; and Manuel Ponce, the beloved Mexican composer, pianist, and scholar. We also played the ethereal Reflejoes de la Noche, by Mexican composer Mario Lavista, and a brooding, contemplative slow movement from Carlos Chavez’ bass quartet. We’ve done this program at venues in Miami and LA, but were very impressed with our Queens crowd, who joined in on Bonito y Sabroso and other classic Cuban songs. This set was a collaboration with vocalist Alina Roitstein, and was inspired by Beny Moré, Cachao, Oscar d’León, and many others. It always feels like the perfect way to end a show, too — with a celebration!

Beny Moré

Many sincere thanks to Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concert Series and Target — together, they bring over 50 incredible free concerts per season to every borough of New York City.

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Collaboration with Camille Zamora, Soprano

Toomai is pleased to announce a new collaboration in the works with soprano Camille Zamora! In 2011/2012, we worked with Camille on two wonderful projects through Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections Program: the first, at the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx; the second at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. We shared incredible experiences there and are greatly looking forward to our future collaborative projects.

We in Toomai are great admirers of Camille’s operatic career, as well as her inspiring work as a founding director of Sing for Hope.  For more about Camille, please visit

This past month we’ve explored repertoire ranging from Scottish folk songs to Weimar standards. Come October, we will present our first concert together at the Zamora residence in TriBeCa.

Stay tuned…

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“Estrellita” (and Toomai!) on YouTube

Toomai’s first-ever YouTube video has been posted! This informal clip comes from Toomai’s Miami Civic Music Association concert last month.

Just click above or follow the link below to hear Estrellita, the classic song written by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, beautifully arranged for Toomai by Andrew Roitstein.

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Spring Break!! (with the Miami Civic Music Association)

Despite the beautiful springtime weather here in NYC, we can’t help starting to get excited for our own Spring Break adventure in Miami next week!  Don’t worry Mom, we will keep ourselves out of trouble–this is business (though we’re hoping for some beach and seafood pleasure.)

Ernesto Lecuona

Toomai is really pleased to have been invited back to the Miami Civic Music Association’s concert series, after our Young Artist’s debut a few year back.  All season, we’ve been slowly building the rep for this concert’s theme: A Tribute to Two Latin American Icons: Ernesto Lecuona and Manuel Ponce.

Manuel Ponce

Poor Andrew has had his work cut out for him; nearly everything on the concert is an arrangement, by Andrew, especially for our quintet.  But…he’s done it!  We’ve been getting great responses to this new stuff, especially the French Impressionist tinged Suite Cubana by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce.  I think Andrew has finally found his inner Ravel…

The two non-Andrew-arranged works have us diving into some fascinating contemporary repertoire that follows the legacy of these two important composers, especially that of Manuel Ponce:  a movement from Carlos Chavez’s crunchy bass quartet, and the ephemeral Reflejos de la noche, by Mario Lavista.

But…the real icing on this Latin cake is that we will be reunited with our super collaborator, soprano Alina Roitstein.  She is gorgeous in every way, and it always feels like a party when we get to play our Cuban dance set with her.  Get ready to move your hips and sing along, people; you won’t be able to help yourself!

I have a week to wait, but I’m already dreaming of a cortadito and can’t get that clave out of my head…  Hope to see you in Miami!

You can get more info here:

Or join our Facebook event page here:

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Toomai Returns to Sing Sing Correctional Facility

Last year, Toomai String Quintet had an unforgettable performance at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where we partnered with Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections, Sospiro Winds, and teaching artist Daniel Levy for a day of musical activities with the incarcerated men.  This last Friday, November 11th, 2011, we returned to Sing Sing with soprano Camille Zamora to build upon this amazing project.

Since the fall of 2011, Levy had been making regular trips to the prison to prepare them for this event.  Inmates practiced guitar, electric bass, violin, percussion, and composed original pieces for Toomai to perform.  Several of the participants that we met last year were present at the second visit.  Our schedule was similar as well – we arrived at the prison, spent hours passing through a rigorous security check, had an intensive rehearsal, and finished the day with a concert.  The sequence of events was the same as last year’s, but the overall depth of the project has grown tremendously.

Before Toomai arrived at Sing Sing last January, we were somewhat nervous before meeting the inmates, as none of us had ever been in a prison before.  The inmates were all very friendly, but when it was their turn to share their music with us, I sensed that many of them were slightly self-conscious.  These men live in extreme isolation, and when given the challenge to compose their own music, they are already exploring a mode of expression that is completely outside of their comfort zone.  When asked to display their progress to people who were not only from the outside world, but who were more fluent in this musical language, it is understandable how these men would perpetuate some tone of guardedness.  However, when we played the first beautiful phrase of a piece by one participant, Tim, everyone in the room was brought to tears and the barriers were instantly shattered.  For the rest of the day, we were all overwhelmed by a feeling of awe, excitement, and surprise.  The inmates had never heard their music played as it was meant to sound, and the performers were inspired by the abundance of creativity and depth in each new work.

For our second visit, the feelings of inspiration and excitement were still present, but the element of surprise changed – because of our incredible first trip, both Toomai and the residents of Sing Sing had high expectations for the return.   It was great to see everyone from the year before – I remembered their names, their music, and their distinct personalities.  They remembered everything about us as well.  This year when we played the new pieces, there were no tears — we went into productive work mode almost instantly.  It was evident that each composer’s musicianship had developed significantly in the last ten months.  Their pieces were longer, with an elevated sense of craftsmanship.  When they spoke about their music, it was evident that each of them had an extremely clear idea of how they wanted their music to sound – this clarity of musical intent is something that is difficult even for professional composers to possess!

Last year, one of the participants, Rob, told us that giving these men music was like giving them “a voice that [he] never knew [he] had before, and although right now, it’s just a little baby voice, it’s there, and it makes a huge difference.”  Being able to return to Sing Sing and witness the growth of these voices is an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.  Some people ask “Why should convicts be awarded a musical experience, when so many others need it?”  We do not know the crimes these men have committed, and it is irrelevant.  This musical companionship gave all of us an opportunity to put our best foot forward, and forget about the darkest moments in our lives.  I often think about what would have happened if these men had been able to discover their musical voices earlier in life – would it have changed where they ended up?  I am hopeful that these newfound voices can still bring them to a better place, which would be great for everyone.

Andrew Roitstein

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