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The Value Of Reconnecting With Old Friends: Grammy Award-Winning Violist Mooke To Headline Next Flagpole Radio Café



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Newtown music lovers will have something big to look forward to this spring. On May 11, Edmond Town Hall will host the next performance of Flagpole Radio Café, a local variety show that blends musical performance with witty comedy.

While the event certainly promises to showcase a number of prominent local artists, residents can expect to enjoy a guest performance by Grammy Award-winning violist and composer Martha Mooke, known for her powerful fusion of classical and electronic sound.

Mooke told The Newtown Bee this week that she identifies as an “electro-acoustic violist” and a “creative instigator.”

As a performer, she shared, one of her main goals is to “help audiences experience the concert in multidimensional ways” and use the opportunity to connect with audiences and inspire them to unlock their own creative potential.

“I find it opens up new channels and new ways of broadening the experience,” she related, “when people realize that when they go to a concert it’s not just listening with their ears.”

Mooke comes equipped with a traditional classical training and a master’s degree in viola performance from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After experiencing some work by the innovative jazz violist Jean-Luc Ponty, however, she started to engage seriously with less traditional applications of the instrument.

“I discovered that a string instrument could do so much more than just playing Mozart,” she said April 9. “Not that there’s anything wrong with just playing Mozart, but to play jazz, to improvise, to plug into electronics like guitar players do — that opened up a whole new world to me.”

These experiences led her to become one of the pioneering players of the electric viola at a time when few artists were experimenting with such an instrument. This uniqueness then captured the interest of the musician and producer Tony Visconti, well known for his work with Marc Bolan and David Bowie.

“Tony and I became friends, and then I started doing recording sessions for him, and then I produced a showcase and asked Tony to be the host of it,” she explained. “It was a showcase that was featuring classically-trained musicians that were making music that defied boundaries.”

The result of this collaboration was the 2001 American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ (ASCAP) new music showcase “Thru the Walls,” which went on to earn Mooke the ASCAP Concert Music Award.

“Tony invited David Bowie to come to the very first one,” she recalled, “and David came to the show. That’s how I met David Bowie! He came to my show, sat at my table, and heard me play my electric viola with my duo partner who plays the guitar.”

According to Mooke, Bowie enjoyed the performance so much he wanted her to form and lead a string quartet to play alongside him at Carnegie Hall for an upcoming Tibet House benefit concert which was being produced by the esteemed composer Philip Glass.

“That was the whole beginning of another part of my world,” she said. “I got three other string players together, and we rehearsed a couple of times with David. Philip had a recording studio called Looking Glass in those days. Then we played at Carnegie Hall in 2001 and subsequently played the next two years also with David. We ended up recording on his album Heathen.”

Mooke’s list of collaborations extends even further. She has performed alongside Barbra Streisand, Andrea Bocelli, Elton John, and Star Wars in Concert, to name just a few.

Apart from her performance work, she works as an artist-clinician for Yamaha and is Eventide Audio’s first ever artist in residence. She also teaches as a full-time professor, directing the Multi-Style Strings program, which she personally founded, at New Jersey City University

“I was asked to revitalize the string program,” she recalled. “I actually started as an adjunct just to help rebuild the program, and I put together a proposal. I’m classically trained, but I’m self-taught with improvisation and all the other things I’ve learned along the way. I always wished that there was a program I could go to at school to learn all these tools. It took me 30 or 40 years to self-teach. What if these instruments and all these electronics and the people to teach improvisation and these different styles could be an actual program?”

Her Grammy Award came just a few months ago, in February. Mooke won the Grammy for Best New Age, Ambient, or Chant Album for her electric viola performance on Carla Patullo’s album So She Howls.

Newtown residents may wonder what could have motivated Martha to take an interest in our local music scene here in town. The answer is a powerful illustration of the value of connecting with old friends.

In a pre-show press release Flagpole Radio Café Producer Martin Blanco shared he and Mooke “knew each other as undergraduate students at SUNY Albany, where she was studying music, I was studying English and Theatre, and we both worked at the Performing Arts Center on campus.

“While I regret that we haven’t seen each other in 39 years,” he added, “I am delighted that we will have the opportunity to be reacquainted through the show. I can’t wait to see how she ignites the Edmond Town Hall.”

Martha Mooke’s work can be listened to on all major music streaming platforms as well as on her YouTube channel, which can be easily discovered by searching her name. Curious readers should visit her website marthamooke.com or follow her on Instagram at “elecviola” to learn more.

The Flagpole Radio Café is scheduled to begin at 7 pm Saturday, May 11, at Edmond Town Hall, 45 Main Street. Tickets are $45 per person and can be purchased online at edmondtownhall.ticketleap.com or flagpoleproductions.org.


Reporter Owen Tanzer can be reached at owen@thebee.com.

Renowned electro-acoustic violist Martha Mooke. Fresh off a win at the 2024 Grammy Awards, Mooke will perform at Edmond Town Hall on May 11 as guest star of the next Flagpole Radio Café.
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