“Polished string-quartet playing with haunting, expressive singing.” –Strings Magazine
World Folk Vocal Chamber
String quartet, string band, vocal quartet, jaw-dropping improvising world-music collective….pick a box and Real Vocal String Quartet will think outside it, with style. RVSQ plays original songs and unique arrangements that pay tribute to music from Appalachia to Kenya to Brazil, with sparkling improvisation that impresses and moves.
What’s New From RVSQ…
RVSQ is embarking on our Sister Cities Project.
With poets from many of San Francisco’s sister cities, we are writing a body of work to be recorded and performed. The work is supported by our Residency at the Montalvo Arts Center.
“Slacker Ridge” by Alisa Rose
Video from Our Latest CD!
Live on the California Report
We visited KQED’s California Report where we talked with host Scott Shafer about our music and our month-long Eastern European tour. Watch, hear, and read the program here.
American Music Abroad
We’re back from our overseas trip as part of the 2012-13 season of the American Music Abroad program, sponsored by American Voices and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Read more about this great honor here.
RVSQ on Pandora
RVSQ is featured on two parts of a new program from Pandora and Intel, “Inside the Music.” We’re the exclusive music behind the “String Quartet” section and part of “Atonal Harmony.” Click here and use the slider to find those sections to hear us!
Curious About Our New CD?
“Trusting the Muses: Classical Skills and Indie Thrills Abound on Real Vocal String Quartet’s Four Little Sisters.” Read about it now!
The new CD from Real Vocal String Quartet
RVSQ in Residency
|Palo Alto, CA||Castilleja School||03/16/15||TBD|
RVSQ on the Switchboard Music Festival
|SF, CA||Brava Theater||04/04/15||2:00pm|
RVSQ plays Presidio Sessions
|SF, CA||Presidio Sessions||04/10/15||6:00pm|
RVSQ in Arcata
|Arcata, CA||Arcata Playhouse||05/09/15||TBD|
RVSQ in Ashland
|Ashland, Oregon||Siskiyou Music Project||05/10/15||TBD|
RVSQ plays the Freight!
|Berkeley, CA||Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse||06/11/15||8:00pm|
Lucas Artist Residency July 1-31 2015
|Saratoga, CA||Montalvo Arts Center||07/01/15||TBD|
Lucas Artists Residency July 1-31 2016
|Saratoga, CA||Montalvo Arts Center||07/01/16||TBD|
Real Vocal String Quartet began with violinist Irene Sazer’s inspiration to combine her musical passions: chamber music, improvising, composing, and singing. With violinist Alisa Rose, violist Matthias McIntire, and cellist Jessica Ivry, Sazer’s vision sparked the creation of a truly collaborative ensemble that freely mixes and ultimately transcends genres.
RVSQ’s surprisingly broad repertoire embraces the diverse influences of all four players, from classical, jazz, and rock, to songs and styles from West Africa, Brazil, and rural America. Yet while four distinct voices can be heard, in seven years of performing together, the Quartet has achieved a true group sound.
Starting from the eclectic, musically sophisticated base of the San Francisco Bay Area, RVSQ has found a national audience since releasing their debut CD in 2010. Recent accomplishments include:
- Selection by the U.S. State Department to perform as musical ambassadors with the American Voices program, which will send RVSQ to 5 countries in Europe for concerts and educational programs in Fall 2012.
- Quartet Residencies at University of Delaware School of Music and Cal Poly Pomona
- Booking by nationally recognized presenters including San Francisco Performances, Folk Yeah, U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, and Switchboard Festival
- Appearances on local and national television (including appearance with Canadian Grammy Nominee Feist on The Tonight Show) and radio
- Press coverage in national publications including Christian Science Monitor, Paste, Relix, Strings Magazine, and The Strad.
- Collaboration and/or recording credits with nationally recognized artists including Feist, Mirah, Beats Antique, Vetiver, Aaron Novik, and Spencer Day
- RVSQ’s second album, produced by Lee Townsend, was released in September, 2012.
Irene Sazer is an improvising violinist, composer, arranger, and singer whose unique style combines world and roots music with classical, jazz, and pop sensibilities. Known internationally as a founding member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, Sazer’s career has encompassed success as a concerto soloist, a concertmaster, an established recording artist, and a recognized educator of music and improvisation. She founded and directs the School of Strings and String Improvisation in Berkeley, California. Sazer’s own recording First Things First highlights her original voice as a singer and songwriter. An in-demand genre-hopping violinist, Irene has recorded and/or performed with Jai Uttal, Ali Akbar Khan, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Smoky Robinson, David Grisman, Linda Rondstadt, Bjork, Maria Marquez, and Billy Joel. Passionate about combining her musical interests in new ways, Sazer continues to push boundaries, exploring the world with her violin, her voice, and her imagination.
A presence on the Bay Area’s classical, bluegrass, and creative music stages, Alisa Rose has performed with diverse artists including including with the Keisa Duo at Carnegie Hall, with A.J. Roach and the Strange Pilgrims on PBS’s Song of the Mountains, at TEDx Alcatraz with Bob Weir, and with Quartet San Francisco on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and with the bluegrass band 49 Special at the 2009 Rockygrass Festival where they took first prize in the band competition in 2008. Alisa was a member of Quartet San Francisco from 2008 – 2012 who were nominated for a Grammy in 2009. Alisa received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Chamber Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where she studied with Camilla Wicks and Bettina Mussumeli. Other performance highlights include appearances with Martha Katz, Bauhaus, Michelle Shocked, Anais Mitchell, Ana Egge, and Josh Ritter. Alisa has arranged or composed pieces for Quartet San Francisco, the Clubfoot Orchestra, 49 Special, and Strings Letter Publishing. Alisa teaches young violinists at the SF Friend’s School and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music preparatory department.
Matthias McIntire is active as a performer, improviser, composer, and teacher in many different contexts and styles. Matthias has performed alongside such renowned musicians as members of the St. Lawrence and Miro String Quartets and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer. In addition to playing with the Real Vocal String Quartet this season, he is a member of Bay Area group Vocallective, an ensemble dedicated to the performance of chamber music that includes voice. He is also a founding member of violin/guitar duo Kriika, with guitarist Justin Houchin, known for their refreshing arrangements of jazz standards and their startlingly original compositions. Matthias has written music for the Real Vocal String Quartet, as well as numerous instrumentalists in the Bay Area and beyond. This year he is thrilled to have writing commissions for Bay Area ensembles Vocallective, Phonochrome and One Found Sound. Matthias received his Masters of Music degree in 2012 where he studied with Ian Swensen. He also studies composition with David Garner and harmony with Allaudin Mathieu. Matthias teaches violin, improvisation and composition at the SF Friends School and the New Mozart School of Music in Palo Alto.
In addition to holding down the groove in Real Vocal String Quartet, cellist Jessica Ivry plays with avant-cabaret composer and singer Amy X Neuburg & the Cello ChiXtet. An instructor of music at College of Marin, Jessica has also toured with the Beth Custer Ensemble, singer-songwriter Vienna Teng, and Balkan women’s choir Kitka. For San Francisco company A Traveling Jewish Theatre, Jessica scored and performed original music for The Bright River, a hip-hop retelling of Dante’s Inferno (2005), and Death of a Salesman (2007). Jessica is featured on the Grammy nominated album Blueprint of a Lady by jazz vocalist Nneena Freelon. In summers 2008 and 2009, Jessica performed in Poland and Ukraine with The Ark Project, an ensemble of Bay Area and New York Klezmer and Balkan musicians that has been featured on Spark, KQED public television’s series highlighting independent Bay Area artists. Jessica holds degrees from Skidmore College and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Irene Sazer, violin and voice
Alisa Rose, violin and voice
Matthias McIntire, viola and voice
Jessica Ivry, cello and voice
Four Little Sisters (2012)
Real Vocal String Quartet (2010)
RVSQ also recorded on:
Feist “Metals” (Cherrytree/Interscope , 2011)
Lord Loves a Working Man, “LLAWM” 2011 (Working Man, 2011)
Vetiver “To Find Me Gone” (DiCristina, FatCat Records, 2006)
…and opened for and/or played with:
Väsen, March 2010
Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble, January 2011
Beats Antique, March 2011
Mirah, August 2011
RVSQ performed at the opening ceremony of “Language of the Birds,”
a site-specific permanent art installation in North Beach, San Francisco, 2008.
Electronic Press Kit
Download RVSQ Electronic Press Kit (25MB Zip file)
Photos & Videos
Our arrangement of "Sweet Honey Bee" by Duke Pearson Video produced by Chasing the Moon
Our arrangement of "Falling Polska" by Vasen Video produced by Chasing the Moon.
Video by Max Baloian
Video by Max Baloian
Video by Max Baloian
A Band of Sisters
The Real Vocal String Quartet is a chamber-jazz group that can sing and perform ‘Turkey in the Straw’ in Macedonian. Scout’s honor.
By David Templeton, October 2013
“Jet lag! The gift that keeps on giving,” smiles Irene Sazer, unpacking her violin inside the studio at KQED, San Francisco’s largest public radio station. Less than 24 hours after returning from a multi-country Eastern European tour, courtesy of the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad Program, Sazer and the three other members of the Bay Area-based Real Vocal String Quartet are valiantly fighting the effects of desynchronosis while preparing to tape a mid-morning interview for the syndicated radio show The California Report….”
2/1/13 James Crel
Real Vocal String Quartet
FLOWER NOTE RECORDS
A generally enjoyable collection from a group of singing string players
Machine: violinist Alisa Rose’s sophisticated arrangement is carried off with aplomb, the group’s finely textured percussive playing accompanying a clean, stripped-back vocal. It’s a recipe that continues into subsequent songs – the ensemble’s range of pizzicato builds a really strong and distinctive rhythmic feel that makes their performance of folk/pop songs both credible and interesting – not something that many string quartets can pull off.
In fact though, vocals are used relatively sparely so there’s plenty of room for the group to demonstrate their playing calibre – the stylish, bluesy phrasing of Homage to Oumou, the polished violin solo of Elephant Dreams or the warmth of the bluegrass Allons à Lafayette are prime examples.
Put a Lil’ ‘Sweet Honey Bee’ in Your Morning Coffee
The Real Vocal String Quartet makes a definitive statement on latest CD
Four Little Sisters. The Real Vocal String Quartet. (Flower Note)
From the opening track, a string-quartet arrangement of Regina Spektor’s “Machine” (with its intimate vocal), the Real Vocal String Quartet calls the listener to attention with the clockwork tap of bow on wood and the grating snap of a well-played chop. This independent release from the San Francisco Bay Area–based string quartet—violinists and vocalist Irene Sazer and Alisa Rose, violist and vocalist Dina Maccabee, and cellist and vocalist Jessica Ivry—shines a light on one of the most talented and innovative quartets on the chamber-music scene (Sazer is an up-and-coming composer and a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet, Rose is a current member of Quartet San Francisco, and all are gifted arrangers, who have contributed arrangements to this publication’s Strings Charts line).
The California Report
Listen to a feature about RVSQ on the California Report Friday, December 21, 2012.
The group, just back from a 5 week cultural ambassadorship in 5 Eastern European countries, plays and tells stories from the trip.
San Francisco Classical Voice
The Queens of Improv: Real Vocal String Quartet
The game has changed more than many are ready to admit, and being a classical musician these days requires some real versatility. But with two CDs under its belt, including its recently released Four Sisters album, plus a month-long tour on deck, the Real Vocal String Quartet (or RVSQ) must be doing something right.
World Music Central
The Real Vocal String Quartet, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has released its new album Four Little Sisters this month. The ensemble will be presenting the new material during an East Coast tour.
The quartet is known for its combination of classical music, jazz improvisation, American roots genres and world music. On Four Little Sisters, the ensemble includes a tribute to Malian star Omou Sangare, new arrangements of songs by Brazilian star Gilberto Gil, Cajun maverick Michael Doucet and pop singer David Byrne; and a Swedish polska with a little bit of klezmer.
Four Little Sisters is a genuinely diverse album by a string quartet that holds great promise.
Read more at
10/17/12 Ian S. Port
“The quieter songs are even more surprising. Opener “Glyphs” features lush contributions from members of the Real Vocal String Quartet. Somber closer “See You on the Slopes” finds Donovan singing alone, accompanied only by a piano. Sic Alps have approached this kind of intimacy in the past, but it was always tempered with chaos, by sonics that alienated the listener while luring them in.”
Splinters and Candy
by Alex on October 16, 2012
Real Vocal String Quartet are not your typical string quartet. These four women from the Bay Area play a lot more than baroque and classical music. RVSQ came together with a mission to combine chamber music, improvising, composing, and singing. Their style of chamber music is all encompassing. On their latest record, Four Little Sisters, RVSQ perform their own stunning renditions of Regina Spektor’s “Machine,” Gilberto Gil’s “Copo Vazio,” Duke Pearson’s “Sweet Honey Bee,” David Byrne & Dirty Projector’s “Knotty Pine,” and more.
read more at:
No Depression The Roots Music Authority
From the opening track of their new album, Four Little Sisters, Real Vocal String Quartet bring a stunning vision to their arrangements. The first song is an acoustic stringband re-envisioning of Regina Spektor’s song “Machine,” and I guarantee you haven’t heard a cello, violin, or viola played this way before. Machine-gun stutters, growling, rippling rhythms that sound almost harmful to the instrument, and floating ethereal vocals. Sounds a bit out there, but these four women are grounded by the traditions and the instruments they’ve chosen, and the album has a remarkable consistency.
read more at
Midwest Book Review
Four Little Sisters is the second collaborative album of Real Vocal String Quartet, a skilled set of arrangers and composers who enjoy reinventing traditional music by drawing on inspiration from jazz, pop, the great classics, and more. An instrument-heavy medley offering a harmonious fusion of ideas and rhythms, Four Little Sisters is highly recommended as an excellent choice for music lovers looking for something different. The tracks are “Machine”, “Homage to Oumou”, “Elephant Dreams”, “Copo Vazio”, “Allons a Lafayette”, “Sweet Honey Bee”, “Falling Polska”, “Durang’s Hornpipe”, “Knotty Pine”, and “Grand Mammon Waltz”.
Edgy String Band Eclecticism from the Real Vocal String Quartet
Former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, a pioneer of string-band improvisation, founded the all-female Real Vocal String Quartet. You could characterize them as a less caustic. considerably more eclectic alternative to Rasputina. They’re playing Barbes on Oct 13 at midnight – and then they’re at Passim in Cambridge, MA the next day at 4:30 PM! That same sense of adventure pervades their music, drawing on genres from around the world to create an enchanting, original, sometimes gypsy-tinged blend.
read more at:
Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange FAME
Mark S. Tucker
Irene Sazer was one of the original members of the Turtle Island String Quartet, but she’s erected a new wrinkle in the old gig in her new incarnation within the Real Vocal String Quartet, a deviation that’ll interest her old alma mater and then some. I mean, Christ, ya can’t possibly ace a group that numbered Mads Tolling and Darol Anger among its erstwhile august roster and still features incredible co-founder David Balakrishnan, but you sure as hell can give ‘em reason to pause in their tracks, and that’s what Four Little Sisters establishes. For one, there’s an enticing sense of playfulness ranging right alongside the classical, avant-garde, folkways, and jazz sensibilities, nor does the band lack for cleverness or subtlety…and, hey, it’s all wimmens!
Read more at:
Music Sampler pick for October, 2012 http://www.utne.com/utne-reader-music-sampler.aspx
Four women, three violins, and one cello are the ingredients for this surprisingly eclectic and experimental collection of music. Real Vocal String Quartet melds influences from the predictable (chamber orchestra) to the less expected (jazz and folk) to the downright surprising (rock, West African, and Balkan music). Genres are mixed, then layered with the quartet’s vocal harmonies and improvisation for results that are playful, complex, and often mesmerizing. Each of these elements have a place in RVSQ’s cover of Regina Spektor’s “Machine.” The group’s second release, Four Little Sisters, is available through their website now.
September 20, 2012 Andrew Gilbert“Four string sisters find their calling with help from Feist”
The Real Vocal String Quartet blend conservatory chops, roots soul and vocal harmonies, laced with improvisational brio
The four women of the Real Vocal String Quartet know they have something rare and unusual going, but it wasn’t until they answered a last-minute call to collaborate with the Canadian singer/songwriter Leslie Feist that they fully realized the singular nature of the ensemble.
September 14, 2012
Bay area pomo babes go for it with girl scout uniforms hiding the sonic experimentation. A solid case of left of center girl power, this is a set that gleefully colors outside the lines that pairs Duke Pearson with Regina Spector with their take on traditional music. Certainly not for you if you watch “X Factor”, this head music is tailor made for those that like their pop music made for their summer home on Mars.
My World Music Friends
September 20, 2012
“A masterful album from a group with great vision and a lot to say.”
“Imagine yourself as an A-student who wants to use your hardearned skills in a way that shows you can have regular-kid fun, too. That’s essentially the situation that violinists Irene Sazer and Alisa Rose, violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry—known collectively as the funky, genre-bending Real Vocal String Quartet (RVSQ)—were in when Feist discovered them via YouTube. The singer subsequently invited them to play on her latest album Metals and tour with her.”
Top 20 of 2011: 11. Feist – Metals
Kind of Bleu
“The other show-stopping guest is the Real Vocal String Quartet, an unusual group of women who sing while each plays her instrument. The warm strings and lush harmonies swell perfectly around the rest of the music.”
Real Vocal String Quartet: Feist’s Secret Weapon
Geoffrey Himes, Paste Magazine
“Feist had always had plans to add strings to her new album Metals. So when she and her three co-producers (Gonzalez, Mocky and Valgeir Sigurðsson) finished the basic tracks at Big Sur, they went looking for a California string quartet. Mocky called someone he knew who recommended someone else, who recommended the Bay Area’s Real Vocal String Quartet. The studio’s remote location meant that it took three hours to download a YouTube video of the band at the Berkeley nightclub Freight and Savage, but that was enough for Feist to extend an invitation.”
The New York Times – Feist: The Bounty of Solitude
“Their chemistry as a musical group has become a catalyst for a creative explosion.“
“At times they remind me of some of Zap Mama’s early work but they have a style that is all their own.”
Part Vocal. Part String Quartet. Very Real.
By Rik Malone | Mar 14, 2010
KQED Arts, Feature/Concert Preview 03/14/10
“RVSQ’s music is by turns beautiful, haunting, mesmerizing and foot-stomping fun.”
Music Union : Live Your Music
Shannon Logan 03/18/10
“The instruments sometimes mimicked the sounds of sitars, bagpipes, flutes, human voices. And sometimes they just sounded like…a viola, a cello, a violin.”
The Un-Chamber Music of Real Vocal String Quartet
March 13, 5:59 PMLA Performing Arts Examiner
“They dive into the unpredictable when they play ‘Now,’ a group improvisation that changes every time. No one, not even the person who initiates the piece knows what she is going to play, but that all changes once they get going. Wherever they began individually, together, the players in Real Vocal String Quartet have gone somewhere entirely new.”
The California Report
“Violinist Irene Sazer is best known as a founder of the innovative chamber group Turtle Island String Quartet. Sazer has always had a wide range of musical interests, lending her talents to everything from orchestras to jazz singers. On the new CD by her group, the Real Vocal String Quartet, Sazer’s diverse musical vision comes into sharp focus. Jazz critic Andrew Gilbert has a review.”
“On their eponymous debut CD, the Real Vocal String Quartet (Flower Note Records) winningly redefines string quartet repertoire with an authority that puts them in the same league as the venerable Kronos Quartet. These four Berkeley women perform largely original music – flavored with Appalachian fiddle tunes, African songs, and Brazilian dances. As their name suggests, their dulcet voices harmonize in lush synchronization with their violins, viola, and cello. This spritely marriage of string quartet precision and elegance with lyrically sophisticated pop vocals makes their bridging of the chasm between pop and classical music freshly enchanting.”
Real Vocal String Quartet
“Tonight @ Freight & Salvage: The brainchild of violinist Irene Sazer (Turtle Island String Quartet), RVSQ brings together some of the Bay Area’s most versatile musicians, including violinist Alisa Rose, violinist/violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry. Celebrating the release of its eponymous album, the band combines four-part vocal harmonies, foot stomps and percussive bow techniques with melodies and rhythms from Brazil, West Africa, Appalachia and the Balkans. Erasing distinctions between old-time and new music, the gals are simply keeping it real.”
Classical music played differently from the norm, but with the passion and joie de vivre worthy of the great masters
Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)
“Real Vocal String Quartet is the exciting album of four classically-trained female players who have forsaken the artificial constraints of both the old classical realm, where musicians are expected to sacrifice their creativity to better contribute to the overall orchestra sound, and the contemporary classical world, the “new music” of which can take difficulty to absurd lengths. Real Vocal String Quartet features simultaneous singing and string playing that defies the boundaries of the soloist-centered and conductor-centered classical music scenes. An extraordinary acoustic experience, Real Vocal String Quartet is a gem for public library collections and anyone interested in hearing classical music played differently from the norm, but with the passion and joie de vivre worthy of the great masters. Highly recommended.”
CD Review: The Real Vocal String Quartet
“There’s so much here that it ought to appeal to a lot of fanbases: neoclassical types, world music and chamber music fans, and just your average pop/rock person looking for something good for the ipod.”
Real Vocal String Quartet
East Bay Express
By j. poet
“The Real Vocal String Quartet is set on expanding the parameters of classical string music.”
Roll over, Beethoven: Real Vocal String Quartet takes the classics for a ride
By Caitlin Donohue sfbg music blog 2/8/10
“Gotta love a classical quartet that chills barefoot in the dirt.”
World Music Central
Contributed by: ARomero
“Beautiful combination of violins, cello and viola with polyphonic vocals.”
Real Vocal String Quartet – Cliches Interrupted
“The past two weeks have been a time of review and reflection on this soon to be released (February 9th) offering from Real Vocal String Quartet. Normally, I can get a sense of the style and artistic prowess of a release after a mere handful of auditions. Not this time. This album strikes all the good chords in my appreciation of classical music. But that is just a bare start. This is professionally done with an international infusion of styles/genres. I am especially enjoying the vocal tracks from Irene Sazer and comrades. What beautiful voices that blend so playfully. Their warmth of personality that flows from these lyrics and often plucked arrangements will keep you coming back for more. Not what I expected and not lacking for anything.”
~ by castleqwayr on January 18, 2010.
“REAL VOCAL STRING QUARTET: So what do classically trained Windham Hill refugees do when the system turns their back on them and sets them adrift in the Bay area? Pretty much what ever they damned well please. Classical with a punk/lounge core sensibility, these ladies will not be playing any tea parties anytime soon, unless it’s a guest shot on ‘Weeds.’ Kinda world, kinda classical, kinda folk, kinda a bit of everything, this is way out adult listening that never gets cute for the sake of being cute, it’s solidly played above everything else. A wondrous left field outing that won’t disappoint.”
Something to Sing About
February 2010 / Strings
“The playing and singing is gorgeous, the flow of the recording is like a river, and even when the mood is dark, they’re absorbed and having fun.”
—David A. Lusterman
Inventive and brilliant, Irene Sazer & The Real Vocal String Quartet Rock the Sanchez
By Jean Bartlett
“RVSQ defines brilliant musicians with fun personalities playing beautiful, inventive music; that’s as good as it gets.”
Globally Infused Music
San Francisco Chronicle
Irene Sazer was ready for a musical party, but tonight’s event at Freight & Salvage wasn’t what she had in mind. A force on the Bay Area music scene for two decades, the violinist corrals her far-flung musical passions in the Real Vocal String Quartet, a band that weaves together the textures of a vocal ensemble and a string band with a mix of original songs and Sazer’s arrangements of tunes from Ireland, Kenya and Brazil.
Featuring violinist-violist Dina Maccabee, cellist Jessica Ivry and violinist Alisa Rose, the band showcases some of the region’s most creative young string players and vocalists. But in the midst of working on the quartet’s first album, Sazer was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and although her prognosis is good, she’s been forced to put the project on hold. “This band started out with my vision, but has taken on a truly collaborative vision,” Sazer says from her home in West Berkeley. “Everybody is an improviser and composer, and they’re all so talented and creative. I’m damn sad I have to take a break. This was going to be our yearly concert at the Freight. Hopefully, I’ll get better and back in the saddle soon.”
Instead of canceling the gig, Maccabee and fiddler Kaila Flexer put out the word to Sazer’s musical colleagues, turning tonight’s show into a benefit for Sazer, who will take the stage if she’s feeling up to it. Among the musicians scheduled to perform are singer-songwriter Vienna Teng, Aux Cajunals multi-instrumentalist Suzy Thompson, fiddler Amy Hofer, the Crooked Jades’ Erik Pearson on banjo, reed master Sheldon Brown, klezmer mandolinist Gerry Tenney, jazz and blues guitarist John Schott, and avant-garde cabaret vocalist Amy X Neuburg, a cast that reflects the many stylistic circles through which Sazer moves.
Raised in a musical family from Los Angeles — her father, Victor Sazer, a longtime fixture on the L.A. studio scene, is author of the instructional book “New Directions in Cello Playing” — Sazer graduated from the Peabody Conservatory and settled in the Bay Area in 1985.
Within weeks, she helped launch the pioneering, jazz-steeped Turtle Island String Quartet. She’s served as concertmaster of the Bay Area Women’s Philharmonic and performed with the Oakland and San Francisco symphonies, while playing or recording with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles to Ali Akbar Khan, David Grisman and Bjork.
“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Irene is that she’s mischievous and playful, like a sprite, and at the same time she can tear into that violin and play like crazy,” says Flexer, who started collaborating with Sazer 20 years ago in the quirky Composers’ Cafeteria band. “I run into a lot of kids who have studied with her. She’ll teach a heavy-metal tune on violin or whatever they want to do.”
Ladies pluck, bow, and shout
East Bay Express
“When Irene Sazer helped start the Turtle Island String Quartet in Oakland a decade ago, its classical-ification of Cole Porter and Miles Davis dissolved borders in a frenzy of joyful pioneering, adding a laid-back component to the deconstruction of chamber music that the Kronos Quartet has begun some years before. These days, violinist and violist Sazer still gets her yo-yos out, playing with artists such as Holly Near and Will Bernard and Motherbug, and on soundtracks to such films as Hellboy and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. This week, you can see what’s she’s been up to with Irene Sazer’s Vocal String Quartet, a foursome of ladies who aren’t afraid to raise voices and bang on fiddles and such while playing original compositions, Kenyan and Brazilian songs, and a Paul Simon cover.”
Real Vocal String Quartet offers unique hands-on workshops, masterclasses, coaching, and educational sessions for string players of all ages, as well as music educators.
With the demand and abundance of alternative string playing, the members of Real Vocal String Quartet have found their niche and want to share it with you! Find you inner creative voice and learn to become more comfortable improvising, writing songs and playing your favorite string instrument!
RVSQ brings unique string and vocal styles to audiences not just through performances, but through educational clinics, demonstrations and interactive workshops. For these outreach events, Real Vocal String Quartet performs original music, demonstrates unusual rhythmic sounds and improvisational skills and techniques through games and song, and introduces techniques and characteristics drawn from a rich variety of string-playing cultures. Demonstrations and hands-on activities encourage learning in a friendly and fun environment where any level and age will benefit. RVSQ also shares in the creative compositional process for budding musicians and professionals alike.
THE MEMBERS of RVSQ are all experienced pedagogues who teach privately, in schools, and on the road. The organizations at which our members teach include the San Francisco Music Conservatory Preparatory Department, the College of Marin, the Berkeley School of Strings and String Improvisation, Starr King Elementary School, the Berkeley School, and through the Adventures of Music program run by the educational wing of the San Francisco Symphony.
Past workshops and clinics include:
University of Delaware, October 2011
-String Improvisation for Classical Musicians
Cal Poly Pomona, October 2010
– “How to Teach Beginning Improvisation” clinic for undergraduate music education majors
Ashland High School, Ashland, OR, September 2010
– Improvisation and performance clinic for advanced string orchestra class
San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score outreach program, May 2010
– “Adopt, Adapt, Create” lecture-demonstration for Bay Area high school teachers
American String Teachers Association Conference, February 2010
-Reading session and discussion presented by Strings Magazine
Published charts for string ensemble including RVSQ repertoire and other material arranged/composed by members of RVSQ are available from
Current titles include:
For bookings contact:
MCM Arts and Entertainment
P.O. 825 • Highland, NY 12528
To reach RVSQ:
Real Vocal String Quartet
P.O. Box 2753
Berkeley, CA 94702
Electronic Press Kits:
Download RVSQ Electronic Press Kit (25MB Zip file)
Art Direction and Web Design:
Corey Weinstein, art director
Doug Chayka, CD art and design
Liz Leggett, CD graphic design
Mad Dog Productions, web design
Photography and Videography:
Chasing the Moon
Publications and Organizations: