Kronos Quartet Champions Humanity, Understanding Across Cultures

Kronos Quartet Champions Humanity, Understanding Across Cultures – February 15, 2017

The Kronos Quartet are and have always been modern and progressive in the sense that they favor new music as opposed to playing works by composers like Haydn or Mozart who did their thing hundreds of years ago.  Now with almost four and a half decades in the illustrious group‘s rearview mirror, they’re engaged in perhaps their most ambitious project yet.  They are commissioning 50 new works over a 5 year period in an initiative dubbed Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire.  The 50 pieces are being created with an eye towards teaching young musicians and giving them the tools to evolve into members of tomorrow’s great string quartets.   Fifty for the Future is part of Carnegie Hall’s broader 125 Commissions Project that’s enlisting both eminent and emerging composers.  

David Harrington hatched the idea for his group in ’73 when, as he told me before the show last Saturday at Zankel Hall, it seemed like society was falling apart with the draft in effect and protest raging against the war in Vietnam.  He had started playing violin at age 9 and string quartets at 12 while attending public schools in Seattle but didn’t know if music was what he really wanted to focus on.  However, upon hearing George Crumb’s Black Angels (David Bowie was among its admirers) on the radio, he was moved to the extent of forming a string quartet who could play it.

Needless to say it feels like society is falling apart these days as well and Trump’s immigration ban has cast a dark shadow on the idea of America. Traditionally, perhaps, the idea of protest music is the folk model where the message is carried in the lyrics.  The way the Kronos Quartet is showing their support for the people banned by Trump may be even more powerful.  Hearing the emotion, the beauty, and the humanity of artists from the banned countries gets to the heart of the matter directly.  

Here’s the program from their performance at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall last Saturday and a pair of embedded videos offering more details about the commissions projects…

GARTH KNOX “Dimensions” from Satellites (co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
KALA RAMNATH Amrit (arr. Reena Esmail, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
NICOLE LIZÉE Another Living Soul (co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
FODÉ LASSANA DIABATÉ Sunjata’s Time (arr. Jacob Garchik; co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
– intermission –
MARK APPLEBAUM Darmstadt Kindergarten (NY Premiere)
TANYA TAGAQ Sivunittinni (arr. Jacob Garchik; co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
RHIANNON GIDDENS At the Purchaser’s Option with variations (World Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
STEVE REICH Triple Quartet

Final notes: As I was packing up my camera after the interview, Harrington shared this fun fact that I don’t think he will mind my passing on.  While walking out for a performance with the Kronos Quartet  in ’94 for a performance of Howl, Allen Ginsburg said I can’t wait to say ‘cocksucker’ on stage at Carnegie Hall!  Ginsburg is among a staggering list of artists who have shared the stage or studio with the Kronos Quartet over the years including Bowie, Metheny, McCartney, Reznor, Waits, Dessner, Bjork, and (of course) Reich and Glass.  They’ve covered Hendrix, Dylan, and…my fave Television’s Marquee Moon.





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