Toomai Featured on New Album: Virginia Luque’s Celebration of Leo Brouwer

Members of Toomai are featured on guitar virtuoso Virginia Luque’s new album, Danza de Medianoche, A Celebration of Leo Brouwer. This is a beautiful compilation of guitar works by the great Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. Toomai can be heard on the last three tracks of the album (19–21), Baladas del Cameron Negro for guitar and string quartetThis piece, translated as The Black Decameron, was originally written for solo guitar; Luque’s recording features the rarely performed arrangement (by Brouwer himself) for a full ensemble. 

After the recording session! Andreas Meyer (recording engineer), Hamilton Berry, Alex Fortes, Kallie Ciechomski, George Meyer, and Virginia Luque at Kaleidoscope Sound, New Jersey


Danza de Medianoche, A Celebration of Leo Brouwer, is available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube.

You can read more about Luque’s beautiful album in this review in Classical Guitar Magazine!

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Cuerdas Cubanas turns 2! Now Available on Bandcamp!

It’s been two years since we released our first album, Cuerdas Cubanas!

The album has already been available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube, but for this anniversary, we have released Cuerdas Cubanas to stream and download on Bandcamp.

This platform offers features which are rare for online listening—album art, lyrics, and liner notes. These will allow listeners to develop an even deeper connection with the Cuban composers and musical traditions on our album. The liner notes also detail Toomai’s own creative process and provide curated lists of other great artists’ recordings of each song. We hope that these additional resources inspire an in-depth exploration of this vast Cuban repertoire.

Sneak peek of the Cuerdas Cubanas Bandcamp page


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Toomai’s Debut Album, Cuerdas Cubanas, is available!

We have finished our debut album titled Cuerdas Cubanas! This recording features eleven original arrangements of classic Cuban songs by Ernesto Lecuona, Beny Moré, Israel “Cachao” López, and more. Special guest vocalist Alina Roitstein joins us for several tracks as we transform this music, representing a range of Cuban styles, into works for string ensemble. Within the next couple of weeks, we’ll be updating our site with more about Cuerdas Cubanas—from song lyrics to stories about our process recording this together. Here’s the album cover!To purchase Cuerdas Cubanas, click here:

Album Credits:

Cuerdas Cubanas will soon be available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and more! We look forward to sharing more with you!

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Meeting a Great Cuban Artist: Gonzalo Borges

Toomai’s upcoming album, Cuerdas Cubanas, is all Cuban music—so we wanted the cover to feature Cuban art. After months of searching, we found an image that we felt was a true companion to our music. Here is the story of how our bassist, Andrew, met the artist Gonzalo Borges.

I took a trip to Miami and spent a morning walking down Calle Ocho, Little Havana. I noticed a post card with a print of a rooster outside of a framing shop. I liked the style and began to look for more prints to learn the name of the artist—Gonzalo Borges.

Andrew, Gonzalo Borges, and Josefina Montilla listening to Cuerdas Cubanas


Two women in the store waved for me to come inside—they were sisters named Daymis and Dayamis. They instantly put me on the phone with Josefina Montilla, Gonzalo’s wife. That same afternoon, I was invited to Josefina and Gonzalo’s home. For hours we talked about art, music, education, and life in Cuba and Miami. I learned that Gonzalo was often inspired by music, and I was drawn to many of this artworks.

There were two pieces in particular that I loved. One was a painting called “Sugar Symphony.” Gonzalo told me: “Cuando oyes al viento que sopla a través de la caña, suena como violines”—When you hear the wind blow through the sugar cane, it sounds like violins.

“Sugar Symphony” by Gonzalo Borges

My other favorite was an ink drawing called “Fantasy.” For me, this had a timeless feeling, and the lines flowing through the figure’s body reminded me of the soaring string sounds heard in Cuerdas Cubanas (Spanish for “Cuban Strings”).

“Fantasy” by Gonzalo Borges




It was a difficult decision, but we ultimately chose “Fantasy” for our album cover!

Within the next couple of weeks, the graphic design for Toomai’s album will be finished, but we are so excited about the art that we feel compelled to share the image before the June release of Cuerdas Cubanas. We are so thankful to have started a friendship with Gonzalo and Josefina, who are an inspiring artistic team! To see more artwork by Gonzalo Borges, visit his facebook page.

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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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