Bow & Hammer interweave classical music and visual art
It is chamber music with a difference. That might be the best way to describe the Eleve series devised by Bow & Hammer, the wittily named duo comprised of Katryn ( Kit) Satoh ( the “bow,” on violin) and Elizabeth Newkirk ( the “hammer,” on piano). The series is about to begin its second season with a concert on Oct. 18 that will open with a performance of Mozart’s “Sonata in E Minor for Violin and Piano.” It will then move on to the evening’s centerpiece, Bela Bartok’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in C major,” which will feature an all- important additional element in the form of an environment- altering installation by visual artist Yasmin Ali. The event will unfold at Ovation Chicago, the hip loft space in the West Fulton neighborhood ( with collaboration from Rhine Hall Distillery, the nearby small- batch, family- owned handcrafted distillery). And the goal is to mix topnotch musicmaking with elements that will break from the standard formality of classical music concerts.
“The word ‘ eleve’ can be translated as ‘ elevated,’ and the French use it when talking about slow cooking,” said Newkirk, noting that in addition to visual artists, the duo’s guest performers can include poets, actors and other instrumentalists, all gathered to create a uniquely social experience with chamber music at its core. “That sense of ‘ eleve’ is a great source of inspiration for us — an idea that carries through to all our work, and connects to making locally sourced, environmentally aware choices that result in a higher level product throughout every aspect of our operation.”
Ali, whose roots are Pakistani, is a Chicagobased multimedia artist whose first art form was singing and songwriting with her band, Slowbots. At the same time, Ali has been developing her focus on multimedia installations through Mozawa, a Chicago- based incubator focused on artistic collaboration between the mediums. Ali’s installation for the Bartok is a work of textile art in three parts, and she explains her thinking about it this way: “A defining characteristic behind the immigrant experience is the desire to preserve your heritage. By transplanting one experience onto another, the result of these preservation efforts can be something so entirely removed from the original as to render it strangely familiar and distorted simultaneously. “My installation seeks to bring up key questions regarding the asymmetrical alignment of experiences and desires,” Ali explained. “It’s like Bartok’s efforts to capture the folk music traditions of Hungary and Transylvania: What does it mean to keep something alive in a place it did not originate from? The lilting melodies of Bartok’s sonata inspired me to utilize materials and processes from my own upbringing, but in a way that could re- frame their purpose. As in all my textile work, the fabric has been up- cycled from my own family. The wood and hardware is an homage to the medium of the everyman.”
As Newkirk notes: “Ovation Chicago is a large, open, industrial space, and some of Yasmin’s work will be hung from the trusses.”
How did Satoh and Newkirk form their musical partnership?
“We met at a chamber music festival in Orvieto, Italy, in 2010, when we were right out of school, and by 2014 we were back there playing in the festival,” said Newkirk.
Trained as a vocalist and violinist, Satoh has worked with theaters, opera companies, composers, poets, actors, and multi- disciplinary companies “to premiere, preserve, or adapt works of diverse genres ranging from cabaret bar songs to the large- scale symphonic orchestral repertoire.” She holds two Bachelor of Music degrees with distinction from the University of Colorado in Violin and Voice Performance.
Newkirk grew up on her family’s farm in Indiana and came to Chicago to pursue studies in piano performance. She received her BA from Columbia College and her Master of Music degree from Roosevelt University with a minor in Collaborative Piano.
Both musicians are fervent believers in collaboration, with Satoh viewing chamber music “as a timeless manifestation of social progress,” and Newkirk, an entrepreneur and activist as well as a musician, “dedicated to creating concerts that mirror the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of the slow food movement, and to creating connections and a camaraderie among other disciplines.”
Although this particular Eleve concert is a one- off, Bow & Hammer will give repeat performances of the Bartok elsewhere throughout the season. And plans already are underway for the second of this season’s three Eleve concerts, with a trio by Shostakovich bringing a cello into the violin and piano mix.
ELEVE WITH BOW & HAMMER 8 p. m. Oct. 18, Ovation Chicago, 2324 W. Fulton, $ 15 – $ 20; bowandhammer. com/ comingup/ lev
| SUPPLIED PHOTO Violinist Kathryn ( Kit) Satoh and pianist Elizabeth Newkirk play together as Bow & Hammer.