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Matt Flinner

A Grammy Nomination for the Modern Mandolin Quartet

This week I got some exciting news: the Modern Mandolin Quartet received a Grammy nomination!  Our newest release on Sono Luminus Records, “Americana,” has been Grammy nominated for the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.  The CD also received Grammy nominations for Best Engineered Classical Album (for engineer Daniel Shores) and Classical Producer of the Year (for our producers, Marina and Victor Ledin, who also produced five other classical CDs in the past year).



Matt Flinner, Paul Binkley and Dana Rath in the cavernous Skywalker Sound Studio

About a year ago, Paul Binkley (mandola), Dana Rath (mandolin), Adam Roszkiewicz (mandocello) and I went into Skywalker Sound studio about an hour north of San Francisco to record an album of American “classical” music built around a string quartet written by Antonin Dvorak that we had been playing for a while.  The album was recorded in three days in August of 2011.  All along we were surrounded by inspiration: the beautiful golden rolling hills of Skywalker Ranch around us, various Star Wars paraphernalia in display cases, George Lucas’ collection of vintage movie posters dotting the walls, and Charlie Chaplin’s hat, which was exhibited behind glass in one of the hallways.  Not to mention the gigantic screening room we recorded in, which is often used to record orchestral film scores.  It was also the site for the original recording of Philip Glass’ “Mishima” String Quartet (which we were about to record parts of) by the Kronos Quartet—talk about big shoes to fill!


Antonin Dvorak’s “American” Quartet was written during Dvorak’s stay in America in 1893 in the town of Spillville, Iowa.  To that point, the United States had yet to really establish a strong and uniquely “American” sound in classical music.  Dvorak, who had incorporated Bohemian and Czech folk melodies into his own music, was brought over from Bohemia by the National Conservatory in New York to help America essentially find its own musical voice.  In this quartet you can hear bits of American folk music, Native American melody and rhythm and cowboy-sounding melodies as well.  It’s a great piece, and works well in the world of mandolin family instruments.  We decided to record all four movements, and then tried to select other pieces that would round out the album with what has come to be a kaleidoscope of American sounds.  We ended up adding music by Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass and Bill Monroe, along with an arrangement of “Shenandoah” and a medley of traditional Irish tunes.



A friend of mine, Mike Iverson, reminded me the other day that he had first introduced me to the music of the Modern Mandolin Quartet about 25 years ago when he played me a cassette of their first album.  I ended up buying a CD copy (one of my first CD purchases) soon after, and I must have listened to it dozens of times.  I loved their version of the Canzonetta from Mendelssohn’s String Quartet #1, and their arrangement of part of Manuel de Falla’s “La Vida Breve.”  It seemed to me to open up new possibilities for the mandolin, and soon I started messing with arrangements of a Stravinsky piece and tried to write some of my own music for the Quartet (I never sent any of it, as I rightly felt I had a fair bit of work to do to get it in proper shape).  And now here I am, playing as a member the group and finding out that we’ve been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category.  Thanks, Mike, for introducing me to this group and thus nudging my musical direction into the gorgeous, varied and challenging world of classical mandolin.

Dana Rath, Adam Roskiewicz, Matt Flinner and Paul Binkley perform at the Mozart Festival in San Luis Obispo, CA


I’m honored to be part of the Modern Mandolin Quartet and to call Paul, Dana and Adam my friends.  We hope to be touring a little more regularly over the coming few years (I’m guessing the Grammy nomination will probably help with that!), and hope to do some more recording in the near future as well.  Look for another album in the next year or so.  And I want to also say that I (and the rest of the Quartet) am very grateful to the folks who really brought this CD up a notch or two: Dan Shores, who recorded the CD so beautifully in surround sound, and producers Victor and Marina Ledin, who helped get the most out of us.

For more information about “Americana” or to order a copy, visit our online store.

6 comments on “A Grammy Nomination for the Modern Mandolin Quartet

  1. Marilyn & Chet Johnson says:

    Congratulations Matt. Sounds like some great American music by some of our favorite composers. Keep up the good work. We’ll be pulling for you guys.
    Peace & love,
    Marilyn & Chet

  2. Brandon Burnett says:

    I love Americana. I look forward to hearing you guys live if you make it to central Iowa. I am learning mandolin and would love to learn the Irish tunes that make up the Irish Roots Melody, could you share which were used? Thanks

  3. Quote from PJ Doland: Glass’s Mishima on an album called “Americana”?That’s precious. End QuoteIt certainly is…but then so is having a suite from Dvorak, but i think both certainly hang under an Americana theme.I suppose the choice of the soundtrack from Paul Schrader’s ‘Mishima’ does seem a bit odd (especially as, now that i look the tracks i don’t think there are any which represent the surf-guitar numbers such as ‘Kyoko’s House’ which might have been my first stop for a mandolin piece) but then choice of materials seem to suggest that the Americana in question here is a real multi-cultural one. Given Dvorak’s interest in developing an american classical canon as a start, then Copland, Bernstein, Gershwin, and Monroe and rounding up with Glass’ film soundtrack its a compelling arc – each in their own way have contributed something unique, and uniquely American to music, Mr. Glass and film soundtracks are arguably the best exemplars of a readily recognizable American classical sound/form today? Its all very arguable but i am still intrigued by this album.

  4. Fans of the Modern Mandolin Quartet will eagerly snap up Americana, the group’s 2012 release on Dorian’s Sono Luminus label and its first album since the Nutcracker Suite, which appeared in 2004. This lively collection offers sophisticated and clear-headed arrangements of string quartets by Antonin Dvorák and Philip Glass, as well as the Three Piano Preludes of George Gershwin, which are interspersed with shorter pieces of a strong American flavor, including the “Hoe-Down” from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, “Cool” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, the traditional folk song Shenandoah, a medley celebrating bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, and an Irish Roots Medley. The ensemble, which consists of two mandolins, mandola, and mandocello, matches the tunings and registers of a classical string quartet, so the Dvorák and Glass pieces make sense both musically and technically, though the adaptations of the Copland, Bernstein, and Gershwin selections involved more creativity. The mandolin’s sound isn’t for everybody, and because the whole program involves plucked and strummed music, without alleviation from other instruments, some listeners will find the CD is easier to appreciate in small doses. Even so, Americana is a tour de force, thanks to the Modern Mandolin Quartet’s skill and artistry. The package contains two discs, one a conventional CD and the other a Blu-ray audio disc, providing two options for playback.

  5. Bryon Norris says:

    In the mid-1980s, Dana Rath and Mike Marshall, in a moment of insanity, created a quartet of mandolin family instruments (2 mandolins, mandola, mandocello) bringing back the mandolin ensemble tradition of the early 1900s. Repertoire was to achieve the standards of the great classical string quartets, but also include bluegrass and other styles (just because it could be done).

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