Audience Reactions

We have received some wonderful feedback from audience members at various concerts and here is a selection of comments and reviews:

Review: The Guardian, Charlottetown, September 23, 2016

Out And About

“We’re so delighted to see so many people here this evening,” said violinist Karen Graves in her introduction to Atlantic String Machine’s (ASM) concert at Florence Simmons Performance Hall this past Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

The brief, welcoming words by Graves, and also by violinist Sean Kemp, were notably tinged with excitement, as this was not just any show – but rather a CD launch by the string quintet, in celebration of the release of their brand new debut album, “Lost Time”.

In April of 2015 the P.E.I.based ASM was brought to life by five highly-experienced string players – Sean Kemp, violin, Karen Graves, violin, Natalie Williams Calhoun, cello, Jeffrey Bazett-Jones, viola, and Louis Garson, double bass.

Since then, ASM has been wowing Island audiences with its performances of a wide range of music – from classical to jazz, to pop, to world music, along with the group’s own compositions.

On the heels of their Music P.E.I. award earlier this year for achievement in jazz or classical music, ASM has certainly been having a very big 2016. And that carried through into the palpable sense of anticipation in the air at the CD launch on Sunday night.

As members of ASM settled themselves into the performance, it was the anticipatory intro bass line of Louis Garson that began the very first piece of the evening, called Libertango. As the violins, viola and cello entered, the quintet took us on the mystical ride of the Piazzolla piece, arranged by Kemp and Williams Calhoun.

Libertango is the first track on the album – and ASM continued in this manner, performing the pieces from the CD in the same order as their track listing.

The second piece (250 to Vigo) swelled and soon rose to a peak, with its creative insert of the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and the third number, an exuberant piece called Holberg Suite by Grieg, was appropriately described by Kemp: “This piece makes my wife Suna think of galloping horses.” I couldn’t agree more. With many a funny anecdote or comment between pieces (and during tuning sessions), ASM had the audience laughing too – with all that bonus live entertainment you miss out on when simply listening to a CD, of course.

Other key highlights of the 75-minute performance included the seventh track called Diablo (a jumping, diving and driving piece that worked the players into a fervour and sweat and garnered a huge applause at its finish); the playful, tightly executed and delightfully innovative version of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby (arranged by Sean Kemp); and the title track of the CD, Lost Time, which was mesmerizing in its speed, and in the display of well-timed agility on the part of all five players as they slalomed their way through the piece’s phrases.

A well-earned standing ovation met the end of that piece, as ASM gave its crowd one last treat of an encore.

And throughout the 75-minute performance, what was made clear was that ASM operates as a well-refined and diligently-synchronized set of musical mechanisms – each with their own unique role in the five-piece invention – and each contributing in distinctly careful focus to the machine’s purpose: the ongoing production of a very beautiful sound.

For quite some time I had been hearing many lovely things about ASM and what a pleasure it was to finally sit back and take in one of their concerts.

I’ll definitely be enjoying Atlantic String Machine in the recorded format as well now – and for your own chance to experience Lost Time visit www.atlanticstringmachine. com to check out the new CD.

Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at or at 902-626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.


‘I haven’t written a fan letter since I was about 10 and wrote to Mr. Rogers so that will tell you how much of  fan I am of your group and music!  I discovered you about two months ago and haven’t missed a performance yet.  The concert on this past May Run weekend was phenomenal!  Simply phenomenal! The last two pieces were so glorious, I felt like I could hardly breathe as I was playing every note right along with you!  I had goosebumps and tears at the end!  You play with such feeling: such intensity, passion, and joy it is so moving to see and hear.  My relatives are coming from Toronto in July and I have been raving about you so, we were wondering if you have the time and place set for July 16th’s concert yet?   I told them they will not be disappointed and prepare to be WOWED!  Thank you for forming this talented, lovely group and for the many, many hours of delight you have provided for your fans.  Congratulations on your award, it is truly deserved.  Well done!’

– Anne Doucette, after our May 21st performance as part of the May Run Music Festival as presented by Music PEI


Review – Atlantic String Machine, March 6 2016, Haviland Club, Charlottetown

As they begin Astor Piazolla’s Libertango, the five members of the Atlantic String Machine breathe in as one, duck their heads simultaneously and begin to play. If it was not already clear from their first two selections, it is here; these musicians play with one heart.

In the scant year since its inception, this quintet has broken boundaries and wowed audiences. Anyone expecting traditional string quintet renditions and interpretations is in for a surprise. Whether they are reimagining Beatles music or playing works more traditionally meant for a larger string orchestra – like Mozart’s Divertimento – their sound is captivating and completely original. It can come down, to some extent, to the work of the arrangers – Sean Kemp and Natalie Williams Calhoun. In Williams Calhoun’s interpretation of the Beatle’s classic, Here, There and Everywhere cello and violin trade the lead so seamlessly that it’s hard to catch them at it. The result is smooth, but with a lilt that seems to characterize all the music the groups puts its bows to. Similarly in Paganini’s Diablo, 24th Caprice – arranged by Kemp – where the music spins so fast and the musical generosity is so complete that it’s hard to keep track of who’s on first. Not that it matters – Louis Garson’s bass provides a strong percussive anchor to the work. When it’s all working perfectly, it feels as if the string machine is very aptly named.

Most exciting is the groups willingness and ability to take on the music of so many genres. This concert featured popular music, tango, traditional fiddle music, Bach and (surprisingly and memorably) the theme from the movie Frozen. What’s interesting, though, is that each piece has been given an undeniable Atlantic String Machine stamp. It’s hard to find the exact word to describe it, though “joy” comes awfully close. Even in pieces that are more somber and more deliberate (the andante from Mozart’s Divertimento, Eleanor Rigby) there is a certain delight in every piece; these musicians are in love with their music and it shows.

Their continuing efforts to share and to educate speak to the generosity they show to each other on stage and to the audience. They are about to record their first record and will, at the end of theprocess, share that experience in a special concert. And another concert will feature movie themes, in part as suggested by their fans. Seeing the Atlantic String Machine is a complete musical education. They love the music, they explain – both musically and in words – why they love it, they ask us to hear it with fresh ears and to love it, too.

-Ann Thurlow