The poet and hymnographer Kassia was a byzantine abbess in the 9th century. A woman born into a wealthy family, she is said to have been in the running to marry the Emperor Theophilus. The emperor, however, found her too witty and candid to make a good wife and chose another. Kassia went on to found an abbey and become a prolific composer, one of the first medieval composers of either gender whose scores are both extant and able to be understood in modern notation. It is her spirit that the Kassia Emsenble seeks to emulate.
The Kassia Ensemble is dedicated to promoting female leadership and entrepreneurship in the arts through quality collaboration and performance. The seven member ensemble strives for gender equity by highlighting female composers and collaborating with female artists while presenting high caliber concerts performed by an all female ensemble.
The composition of the ensemble is quite unique. It is composed of the traditional string quartet, plus Double Bass, Clarinet, and Harp. This allows for quite a bit of variety in programming. A concert could range from charming duos such as Andrea Clearfield's Three Songs for Violin and Double Bass and Shulamit Ran's Private Games for Clarinet and Cello to larger scale works like Andre Caplet's Conte Fantastique.
The talents and mission of the Kassia Ensemble have also been put to use in the recording studio. The ensemble is featured alongside the critically acclaimed group Kinetic on the album Songs of Lake Volta, a song cycle based on Ghanaian folk tunes written by local composer Joe Sheehan. Soon to be released, they are also featured on renowned Trumpeter Mary Bowden's upcoming album Rêverie. One can also hear the ensemble occasionally broadcasting live on WQED, Pittsburgh's classical music station.
The ensemble particularly enjoys collaborating with mixed media artists. Internationally admired Fran Flaherty has worked closely with the group, curating shows that highlight local female artists to pair with concert programs. Recently, a few members of the ensemble participated in the Cultural Trust's large scale production of Manifold, a world premiere by composer Wang Lu and visual artist Filip Roca as a kickoff to 2018's Festival of Firsts.
There are many projects coming in the Kassia Ensemble's near future. There will be more recording projects, an educational residency at Britt, and the group will begin commissioning new works from vibrant composers.
Through imaginative and collaborative programming the Kassia Ensemble continues to pursue projects that build a platform for gender equality in the arts.