“Adventurous and ahead of the curve… chamber music got a kick in the pants”
— Stephen Brookes, The Washington Post
Fireworks Ensemble is an American chamber music group whose inclusive repertoire and innovative performances helped to rewrite the rules of concert music for more than fifteen years.
Hailed as “adventurous and ahead of the curve” by The Washington Post and “classically trained but musically fearless” by Time Out New York, Fireworks challenged the chamber music community to embrace all styles, periods, and traditions—including not only European concert works, but also American jazz, rock, and folk, and musical cultures from around the world. “‘I listen to everything’ is a hyperbole thrown around far too often,” wrote Nick Warren of the Erie Reader, “In the case of this band, however, it’s believable. There’s something for everyone, with expert musicianship aplenty.”
Performing on instruments rarely heard in classical music—including electric guitars, synthesizers, and drums—and championing approaches such as improvisation, live electronics, and multimedia, Fireworks helped to make the genre of chamber music more vibrant, inclusive, and accessible for younger and more diverse audiences. In her review of the group’s sold-out concert at Miller Theatre in New York, Anne Midgette of The New York Times captured the essence of Fireworks’ approach by writing “Finally labels ceased to matter: this was just music, and it sounded like music to keep.”
Founded by composer/bassist Brian Coughlin in New York City in 2000, Fireworks quickly gained critical attention and an international audience with its rock-inspired version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In the following two decades, the ensemble developed an exceptionally varied body of work with projects as far-ranging as Frank Zappa’s instrumental rock, Bach’s The Art of the Fugue, dance music from around the world, classic cartoon scores, and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.
Fireworks performed hundreds of concerts throughout the United States at venerable classical music institutions such as Carnegie Hall, The Library of Congress, and The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and rock and jazz clubs such as (Le) Poisson Rouge, The Knitting Factory, and Tonic. The group also appeared on numerous radio and TV programs, including Minnesota Public Radio, WNYC, and NBC’s “The 10! Show.” Fireworks collaborated with musicians Lou Reed, John Zorn, Glenn Branca, and David Del Tredici, fashion designers Philip Lim and Trovata, and the Zappa Family Trust, and recorded for Entertainment One and Viper Records.
Dedicated to reaching new audiences of all ages, Fireworks devoted a large part of its time each year to education and outreach. The ensemble participated in Chamber Music America’s Residency Partnership program and Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections and was a frequent ensemble-in-residence at the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium. Fireworks earned numerous accolades and honors over its career, including grants and awards from New Music USA, the Copland Foundation, Chamber Music America, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and Meet the Composer.
In its last three seasons, Fireworks continued to shed new light on established musical forms and traditions. The group toured extensively with American Tapestry—its eclectic program of American music—and produced two evening-length collaborative works: the rock-meets-plainchant Requiem for ensemble and chorus, and Play, a concerto for improvising musicians and orchestra. Fireworks performed its final concerts to date in 2017, but the group’s mission lives on in the projects of its former members and the vibrant diversity of contemporary chamber music.