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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Our first day as Ensemble-in-Residence @ Jacobi Medical Center

Toomai with Camille Zamora and the wonderful Jacobi Community!

On October 20th, we gave our first of seven performances as the ensemble-in-residence at Bronx’s Jacobi Medical Center (through Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program).  We had an amazing experience collaborating with soprano Camille Zamora and the hospital staff.  This particular visit was part of a series of events for Domestic Violence Awareness month.  We performed in the Jacobi Atrium, where the theme of our concert was “creating a safe space.”  While we played, Jacobi patients, visitors, and staff worked together on a collage to cultivate a feeling of security, inspiration, and self-empowerment.  Manuel Bagorro, one of the masterminds behind the Musical Connections Program, told us that one patient reflected: “music was going through her body, making her feel happy and well…. It was therapeutic.”  At first, she hesitated to sit down, but after hearing one piece, she said to herself “where am I rushing to?…. this is where I need to be.”  While the environment of a hospital  can often be stressful and full of uncertainty, Jacobi’s mission is to make their facility feel like a safe haven where people can take major strides to heal themselves not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.  Jacobi has wonderful ideas about how music can be utilized to enforce this goal, and we are honored to have the opportunity to work in this progressive health-care facility for the entire year!

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Toomai’s Summer + Planning the 2011-2012 Season

The 2010-2011 concert season is coming to an end, and while it has been an excellent year, we are hard at work planning activities for next season!

This summer, individual members of Toomai will be attending various summer programs, such as the Marlboro, Lucerne, and Orford music festivals.

In the fall of 2011, we will begin a year-long collaboration with Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections, where Toomai will be the ensemble-in-residence at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx.  We are in the middle of planning-sessions with hospital staff, coming up with ways that a musical environment can benefit the patients, families, and staff of the medical center.

We’ll post another update soon when some more of our plans and repertoire have been solidified, but until then, we hope you enjoy the wonderful Spring weather!

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Reflections from Horizon Juvenile Center

Last week, we completed our mini-residency at the Bronx’s Horizon Juvenile Center in collaboration with Found Sound Nation and Carnegie Hall.  Toomai made multiple visits to the detention center, where we worked with twelve young residents.  We demonstrated our instruments and helped the participants record and sample excerpts from Toomai’s repertoire.  They also composed their own music for us to play.  After two weeks, we had eight original songs written by the residents of the facility.  Toomai performed alongside the students for other Horizon residents, family, and staff.  We left the facility with the young songwriters’ infectious new melodies stuck in our heads!

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New Website + January performances at NYC Correctional Facilities!

Toomai is pleased to announce our new website, thanks to Peter Wise of Square Candy Design!  Please browse the new site for audio files, photos, and more!

We have always enjoyed playing community engagement programs — for the last three years, we have performed numerous concerts at schools, hospitals, and homeless shelters.  This month, we have embarked on a new endeavor through Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program:  Correctional Facilities.  On January 14th, we played a joint concert with Sospiro Winds at Sing Sing maximum security prison.  On January 27th, we will perform at Horizons Juvenile Justice Center in the  Bronx in collaboration with portable production troupe, Found Sound Nation.

For the Sing-Sing program, we worked with ten inmates at the facility, who after a series of a guitar and composition workshops with teaching artist Daniel Levy, wrote four wonderful pieces for Toomai to perform alongside the participants.  To quote our violist, Erin’s reaction, “The positivity and openness of the participants with whom we collaborated as well as the tremendous energy and engagement we felt from the audience was unlike anything we were prepared for. All together, a totally unforgettable experience. It was a privilege to have played.”

This week, we are making repeated visits to the Horizons Center, where Chris Marianetti and Jeremy Thal of Found Sound Nation are helping a group of twelve 13-17 year olds to use production equipment.  They’ve been exploring and recording the sounds of the string quintet and writing songs based on Toomai’s music.  We’re excited to see how the final concert turns out!

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Toomai warmly welcomes new violinist, Pala Garcia!

Toomai is excited to announce our new violinist, Pala Garcia!  After two years of living in Munich as an academy fellow with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, Pala’s back in New York and we feel extremely lucky to play with her.

This coming weekend, we are traveling throughout the northeast for a wide variety of performances:  November 5th, we’ll play Songs of Synastry and Solitude at Philadelphia Art Alliance, November 7th, we’ll play a set on a faculty recital at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.  On November 9th, we’ll play our third Carnegie Hall Musical Connections concert of the season at Sea View Hospital in Staten Island, NY.  Please visit see our Performances page for details on these events.

Please stay posted, as we will soon add new performances to our calendar as well as display some great new group photos by Brian Hatton!

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May 16th, 6 PM @ Grace Church Van Vorst, Jersey City


The Toomai String Quintet will make its second appearance in Jersey City as part of the fabulous Con Vivo Chamber Music Series.  We will be presenting a concert featuring a quintet by the 19th Century French composer Georges Onslow, a new work by Richard Carrick, and arrangements of Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes by our good friend Vincent Raikhel. We are also thrilled to announce that we will be joined by singer Alina Roitstein in songs by Celia Cruz, Cachao and more.

The concert will take place at the beautiful Grace Church Van Vorst, starts at 6 PM, and is FREEEEEE!

Hope to see you there!

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