Del Sol String Quartet | Credit: Lenny Gonzalez

The indefatigable Del Sol String Quartet strikes again, this time to spark joy in hearts weary from seemingly endless months of viral pestilence, divisive politics, and airborne pollution. A press release from the group a few days ago broke the news about The Joy Project:

Del Sol will be hitting the streets with brand-new music composed to spread joy here and now. This is music for sharing — in person and outdoors — short, sweet and unexpected. Music that lets a worker on her lunch break jam out to a Turkish folk-dance-gone-bananas. Music so your neighbors can perk up their ears and say hello on their city block. Music so a child can hear the flute-playing tree-spirit who just might live in that pine tree.”

Del Sol will be committing their fall season to this series of free events in public, open-air settings such as parks and school yards around the Bay Area. Music for the concerts comprises new works commissioned from the many contemporary composers Del Sol works with, including Terry Riley, Tania León, Danny Clay, Gabriela Lena Frank, Mark Orton, Pamela Z, and many others.

Del Sol violist Charlton Lee | Credit: Lenny Gonzalez

According to Charlton Lee, Del Sol’s violist and artistic director, the concerts will feature all new pieces. “The impetus for the project was a serious lack of joy lately.” The commissioned works will be short and intended to inspire delight and joy. Composers will be funded by Del Sol’s Premieres and Commissions Fund, although some artists will be donating their fees to help commission additional composers.

Listeners can get a sneak peek and listen at a pop-up concert in Hayes Valley on Sunday, Oct. 11. For details on the time and location, see the Del Sol Calendar Page.

The first official Joy Project concert was slated to place outside the Presidio Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 24, but the concert has been put on hold pending approvals for the gathering.  

Lee says that there are many more concerts in the works, but “we haven’t pinpointed all the details yet.”

Del Sol, widely admired for its unwavering commitment to new music by way of its many new commissions and premieres over the years, is also known for thinking way outside the box in terms of collaborations and performance settings.

Projects over the years have included Stringwreck, a collaboration with choreographers Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton in which the members of the group moved along with the dancers on stage and redefined the interaction between music and dance. The Solscapes project involved participants and musicians joining environmental guides for hikes into natural outdoor concert settings. A Night at the Speakeasy found members of the group in costume and in character to explore the cultural and social context of music from the Prohibition years.

Some of the many composers Del Sol has commissioned for new works

Several planned projects that looked particularly promising were necessarily put on ice due to the pandemic. Between Worlds of Sound was to feature the quartet joining sarodist Alam Khan, sitarist Arjun Verma, tablaist Nilan Chaudhuri, and composer Jack Perla in “a musical search for identity and connection between cultures.” Your Wall Is Our Canvas: The Angel Island Project, a Hewlett 50 Arts Commission, is an oratorio composed by Huang Ruo inspired by poetry carved into the walls of the Angel Island immigration station by Chinese immigrants being held there.

A Terry Riley sketch is the logo for Del Sol's Joy Project

Although those pieces are postponed with no firm date set for rescheduling, there is some bright news. Although it has not been officially announced yet, the ensemble will perform and film Huang Ruo’s A Dust in Time in Grace Cathedral this fall, and stream the performance on Nov. 5 (exact time TBD). They will also be performing the piece live in front of the cathedral that same day. According to Lee, Ruo’s new work was composed during the pandemic. Inspired by Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas, the piece will reflect that spiritual art form, in which a mandala pattern is meticulously assembled from colored sand and then ritualistically destroyed upon completion to reflect the transitory nature of life.

For details and specifics on the timing, please check the Del Sol website calendar later this month.

NOTE: As orginally published, this story included more details about the planned Oct. 24 Joy Project concerts at the Presidio. Updated requirements for additional permitting/permissions for outdoor gatherings have put those events on hold for the time being.