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Kronos Quartet makes 21st century classical music

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Kronos Quartet makes 21st century classical music

Centennial Hall concert will feature new work by Steve Reich

  • Kronos Quartet
    Zoran Orlic/Courtesy of Kronos QuartetKronos Quartet

“Every concert we play is unique,” explains David Harrington, violinist for Kronos Quartet. “The program in Tucson is specially designed and formulated for that evening.”

The Kronos Quartet has plenty of music from which to choose. Over nearly 40 years, they have released nearly 40 albums and guested on many others. When selecting works for their programs, they have more than 700 commissioned works to choose from, making them the preeminent patron of chamber music composition since the Hapsburg Empire.

Kronos is famous for electrifying classical music. Literally. Their use of sound augmentation, pre-recorded tapes, and guest musicians while adapting music by Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk and a world-wide cadre of composers creates classical music that is both cool and modern.

Harrington spoke from Kronos Quartet’s offices in San Franciso. There, in addition to coordinating the world tours and commissioning new music, the organization runs a variety of educational outreach programs for young people. “Increasingly we’re involved in mentoring,” Harrington says.

Here’s Harrington’s rundown of their program for Sunday, April 3, at Centennial Hall.

'Aheym (Homeward)' by Bryce Dessner 

Dessner is a songwriter and guitarist for New York alt. band, The National. “There are very few pieces that have ever been written for the string quartet that can start a program, end a program, or enliven the middle,” Harrington says.  “It was written several years ago, originally for an outdoor concert, and we were going to be playing in Lodz, Poland where Dessner’s family emigrated from. The original idea was to reflect that. That’s where the title “Homeward” came from. It’s one of those pieces that starts intense and gets even more intense. It has drive. This is high octane.”

'Requiem for A Dream Suite' by Clint Mansell

This suite, arranged by David Lang, is taken from the soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s film “Requiem for A Dream.”

“We thought it would be fun to play this in Tucson,” Harrington states. “I think it’s an amazing assemblage of various sounds. When Darren Aronofsky approached us to record the soundtrack, the film and music weren’t completed yet, but there was enough that I could see how the soundtrack drove the film. I’ve always thought it was a wonderful collaboration between Aronofsky and Clint. It’s very interesting how this soundtrack has moved into the societal music consciousness. It’s been sampled by lots of musicians and groups.”

Selections from 'The Dead Man' by John Zorn

Zorn is an avant garde composer and jazz saxophonist who has also composed numerous soundtracks.

“This is from that period of his work where he was appropriating lots of elements. There’s one movement that has quotations from Beethoven, Ives, Webern, Haydn, Bartok, Carter,” according to Harrington.

'Flugelfrelsarinn (The Fly Freer)' by Sigur Rós 

Sigur Rós is an Icelandic rock group. This song is from their album, Ágætis Byrjun.  Kronos has recorded an album of Sigur Rós tunes arranged for quartet.

“I first heard them around 12 years ago,” Harrington explains. “I couldn’t put the recording down. I trust that, when you run into something and you have to hear it again, and again. That’s what happened with Sigur Rós. When Kronos was playing in Reykjavik, we went to their studio. We become friends with the group. For me, they are a wonderful composer. Because they’re a quartet, doesn’t mean they can’t be a composer.

'WTC 9/11' by Steve Reich

Minimalist Reich and Kronos are famous for their collaboration on Riech’s epic work, “Different Trains.” This new piece premiered March 19 at Duke University.  

“As title suggests, it’s about the events of Sept. 11,” Harrington says. “I had asked Steve if he would consider writing a bookend to “Different Trains.” That’s how this began. I had no idea that this would become the subject of his third piece for Kronos. In the space of nearly16 minutes, it takes you right back to the events of that day. It is quite an amazing experience. One of the beauties of the piece is that it also moves beyond that day. In the third section, you actually feel a transformation happening. It’s a fantastic piece.”

'Clouded Yellow' by Michael Gordon

Post-minimalist Michael Gordon is one of the founders of Bang On A Can.

“He’s been writing for Kronos for about 15 years now,” according to Harrington. “Clouded Yellow is his fourth piece for us. It’s truly magical. It’s inspired by the Clouded Yellow butterflies that migrate from Africa to Europe, so there are these huge swarms of yellow butterflies, so there is quite a lot of fluttering.

'Bloodstone' by Amon Tobin

Originally from Brazil, Tobin grew up in Canada. He writes and records contemporary electronica.

“He’s one of the really imaginative musicians to come from that corner of the world of music,” Harrington states. We’ve appeared on one of his albums. He’s someone who I think is a really wonderful musician. He sampled Kronos and turned it into a piece called “Bloodstone.” The music of ours that appeared on his album was not something we could play live. Arrangers Stephen Prutsman and Micheal Winger made a version of “Bloodstone” that we could do live. I wanted his music to be a part of our show.”

'…hold me, neighbor, in this storm…' by Aleksandra Vreblaov

“I first met Aleksandra Vrebalov in 1995 when she was a student at the San Francisco Conservatory,” Harrington explains. “At that point she had just moved to the United States from Yugoslavia, now Serbia and she’s been writing for us ever since. We’ve recorded several of her works. This is her third piece for Kronos and she’s currently working on a quintet for us.”

“There was a film about the Serbian community in Chicago and we watched the film together and she was singing Serbian songs that she hadn’t sung since she was a little girl from weddings and different occasions. It was astonishing how the Serbian traditions were more alive in Chicago than in Serbia at weddings and funerals and parties. The piece came out of a discussion - I just couldn’t understand what had gone on in her country and that part of the world. I asked her if she could make a piece that would teach me what was happening and be useful for our audience.”

Harrington adds, “It opens with me playing the gufli, the one-stringed bowed instrument that poets and bards perform their art with. I learned how to play it off of YouTube. The piece takes on this amazing kind of drive. There are lots of elements that come in, there’s a singer and later Aleksandra’s grandmother, whom she recorded, comes in singing a traditional song, there’s sounds of the war. She brings a sense of Serbia culture together in this piece. It's a magnificent peice of music.”

Asked what’s next for Kronos Quartet as they approach their 40th anniversary in 2013, Harrington laughs and says, “We’re just getting started.”


If you go

  • The Kronos Quartet presented by UAPresents at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd, on Sunday, April 3, at 7 p.m.
  • Tickets are $29 - $59 with substantial discounts for students. Tickets are available online, by phone at 621-3341 and at the Centennial Hall box office.

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