Jay Blakesberg
Violinist Evan Price, violist Mads Tolling, cellist Mark Summer and violinist David Balakrishnan of the Turtle Island Quartet. They'll present their Solstice Celebration with Leo Kottke at Weber State.

For 23 years, the Turtle Island Quartet has given its audiences (and it does have a loyal following of fans around the country) a different musical experience.

Although a traditional string quartet, the foursome plays anything but traditional quartet literature. Its repertoire ranges from blues to bluegrass, rock, folk and jazz. And a holiday-themed program with TIQ is also an experience that goes beyond the expected.

The group, violinist David Balakrishnan, violist Mads Tolling and cellist Mark Summer, along with guest violinist Matt Glaser, will come to Utah again Thursday with its holiday program. They will play in Ogden in the Austad Auditorium at Weber State University. The concert is part of their current 2 1/2-week, 11-city tour, Summer said.

And while they've done this program previously, this year will be the first time they're doing it with legendary guitarist Leo Kottke. "He's an awesome guitarist," Summer said in a phone interview from Charlottesville, Va., where TIQ was performing their holiday concert.

Teaming up with Kottke is a first for him and the ensemble. "We did one of his pieces before, but we've never played with him, "Summer said. "And he's never played with others, although now he's playing with Mike Gordon from Phish."

The collaboration between Kottke, who made a name for himself in the 1970s as a singer/songwriter and rock guitarist, and TIQ is a natural, Summer said. "There are more jazz and blues elements in his playing now, and our musical background is blues, bluegrass and jazz. It's a wonderful connection."

The concert Thursday, titled "A Solstice Celebration," focuses on Hanukkah and Christmas, but with a twist. "One of the songs for Hanukkah we're doing will be done as a bossa nova with improvisation," Summer said.

Traditional Christmas music will also get a similar treatment. "'Silent Night' will be done in a manner like Miles Davis' song 'All Blues."' There will also be English carols and Scottish reels, but played as only TIQ can.

The Indian festival Dewali, or Festival of Lights, by which it's also known, will also be on the program. "David's father is from south India, so we're doing something from that tradition, too," said Summer, adding that Balakrishnan arranged the music to sound as if it was taken from the score to a Bollywood movie.

Like the others in TIQ, Summer had a classical music background, but he was never completely at home only playing classical pieces. "My background is really hybrid," he explained. "I went to the Cleveland Institute of Music, where I studied the cello. But growing up, I was in a rock band playing drums, guitar and organ."

After graduating from Cleveland, Summer got a job with the Winnipeg Symphony. But playing the standard orchestral repertoire didn't satisfy him musically. "After three years I was so stressed out, I quit. They wanted me to stay and made me some great offers. They told me I didn't have to play any of the pops programs. I could just do the masterworks concerts, if I wanted to. But that was exactly what I didn't want." So he left and returned to his native California.

While in the Bay Area, he met Balakrishnan, who was already experimenting with expanding the possibilities of the string quartet medium. "He enlisted me, and I had nothing to lose." They started small, playing tiny venues in California. "The audiences just dug what we were doing. Ours was a new concept. We were a quartet that could improvise."

If you go . . .

What: Turtle Island Quartet, Leo Kottke

Where: Austad Auditorium, Weber State University, Ogden

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $18-$20

Phone: 801-626-8500

E-mail: [email protected]