Meet the Music Makers: Akropolis Reed Quintet

Photo by Matthew LaVere


In conversation with Kari Landry, clarinetist with Akropolis Reed Quintet.

Your quintet formed in 2009 at the University of Michigan. What sparked the idea for this particular grouping of instruments? 

Akropolis formed back when we were undergraduate students at the University of Michigan. The 5 of us met while playing in the bands and orchestras together, and we ended up deciding to form a chamber group together because we were all really good friends. We were inspired by the Calefax Reed Quintet, who invented the ensemble type nearly 40 years ago in Amsterdam. Earlier this January, we were actually fortunate enough to be able to journey to the Netherlands to perform alongside Calefax at the Muziekgebouw, in celebration of our over a decade-long artistic friendship. 

One of the pieces on your upcoming UChicago Presents program – Derrick Skye’s A Soulful Nexus – is a world premiere. How does the rehearsal process of preparing for a premiere differ from, say, preparing a canonical work like Gershwin’s An American in Paris

Being a reed quintet, what we love to do most is help create new works for our unique instrumentation. Akropolis has premiered and commissioned over 150 pieces, so rehearsing and premiering new works is built into the DNA of our ensemble. Derrick's work is especially exciting, as it was made possible thanks to us receiving a couveted Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Grant, allowing the composer to be able to create a 20+ minute masterwork for the ensemble. 

From the composer: "A Soulful Nexus is a transcultural classical work that blends elements of Persian classical music with ornamental vocal techniques found in solo Balkan vocal melodies and the groove-based polyrhythms characteristic of electronic dance music. From Persian classical music, the piece uses an E koron, which to the Western trained ear may sound like a flat microtonal pitch. However, in Persian classical music, a koron is considered its own note, not a microtone between notes. Sonically, this demonstrates how something initially perceived as an imperfection, over time and with change in perspective, can be seen as an aspect of perfection."

By contrast, we've been playing Gershwin's An American in Paris for several years now, so it's a joy to be able to continue to refine our interpretation with every performance. 

In addition to your musical achievements, your ensemble is incredibly entrepreneurial. What projects are you most proud of, and how do you balance this unique blend of performance and arts leadership? 

Akropolis is incredibly proud to not just be a performing ensemble, but a nonprofit organization committed to community engagement and education. Over the years, we've built numerous entrepreneurial endeavors including our festival in Detroit, MI called Together We Sound made up of concerts all around the city in public places like parks and workplaces, which includes a year-long residency at 3 Detroit high schools where we work with students to compose new pieces. Most recently, we launched our Akropolis Chamber Music Institute; a 9-day summer festival that brings together 4 creative composers and 10 innovative performers to work and play alongside Akropolis in the picturesque lakeshore town of Petoskey, MI. For us, it's always been effortless for us to balance this work and these programs with our performance calendar, as they are some of the things we care most deeply about, and bring us the most connection with our hometown Michigan communities. 

When you’re not working or performing, what does Akropolis like to do in their free time?

Akropolis has been made up of the same 5 members (Kari, Matt, Ryan, Andrew, and Tim), for nearly 15 years. That means the 5 of us kinda like spending time together, haha! When we're not working or performing, we love a good tennis tournament between the 5 of us, where Andrew undoubtedly always wins, having Tim take us to the best coffee shops in town, testing ourselves against the highest level of Harry Potter trivia on long car rides, and of course, spending time with Matt and Kari's new baby boy Theo.  

What’s next for Akropolis? 

We're very excited to be releasing our 6th album on April 28th, entitled Are We Dreaming the Same Dream?. It features Akropolis alongside piano and drums in a 60 minute concept album that blurs the lines between the genres of classical and jazz genres. The album is an examination of what Ralph Ellison calls “the unity of American experience.” With a hybrid ensemble comprised of Akropolis Reed Quintet, Grammy-nominated pianist/composer Pascal Le Boeuf, and drummer Christian Euman, Le Boeuf deconstructs the fabric of his American experience by recognizing the strands of his musical DNA—Geri Allen, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, and Leonard Bernstein. 

You can watch a teaser video of the album here: 

You can pre-order the album here: