Having artists curate programming is the focus of Carnegie Hall's Perspectives series, and few artists are as intimately involved in presenting sounds from the world over as the Kronos Quartet. "In the last 35 years," says violinist David Harrington, the group's founder, "there have been 650 pieces written for Kronos, and I can say that I've been involved in every one of them."
Since the group's founding in 1973, the members of the Kronos Quartet have become four of music's consummate collaborators; in addition to Harrington, there is John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola, and Jeffrey Zeigler on cello. The four have built a circle of colleagues past and present that include everyone from pop icon David Bowie to the Palestinian trip-hop collective Ramallah Underground.
"I'm most interested in bringing elements: sounds, musical feelings, and colors: into the realm of what we call the string quartet that have never been there before," Harrington says. "I feel fortunate every day that the vocabulary keeps getting larger."
The dazzlingly diverse repertoire the quartet brings to its Perspectives concerts demonstrates just how widely (and wildly) fluent the group has become. This March, they start with an entire evening dedicated to celebrating the 75th birthday of one of their most important artistic partners, composer Terry Riley, with whom they have worked for three decades. Harrington was just out of high school when he first heard Riley's seminal work In C: a piece the violinist says "invites you to hear the world differently."
"There's no body of work that I know like the one Terry has created for us, in terms of the variety of inspiration, the incredible imagination of sound, and the flexibility of thought," says Harrington. Their collaboration has become a body of two dozen works that includes the NASA-commissioned Sun Rings, a 2002 multimedia work that incorporates images from space; and the widely acclaimed Cusp of Magic, which Riley wrote for Kronos and pipa virtuoso Wu Man in 2005, and will be featured during the quartet's Professional Training Workshop at Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute March 14 _21.
For its all-Riley concert on March 11, Kronos gives the world premiere of Another Secret eQuation, written for the quartet and the Young People's Chorus of New York City; and the New York premieres of The Welcoming Baptism of Sweet Daisy Grace and Transylvanian Horn Courtship, which will be played on newly invented instruments designed and built by another friend and colleague, MacArthur award-winner Walter Kitundu.
Kronos has been a fearless advocate of tossing away every stereotype of the classical string quartet by discarding narrow-minded ideals such as the permanent necessity of a plush, elegant sound, deifying the past over the present, and presenting a solemn: even dour: persona. Kronos is instead passionately engaged in the here-and-now, adventurously exploring all kinds of emotions and sounds.
Kronos also makes serious business of playfulness, in all its forms. For its Perspectives series, Kronos dedicates the March 12 performance to toys and technology. Toy piano virtuoso Margaret Leng Tan, Angola-born Portuguese composer and instrument builder Victor Gama, experimental electronic music duo Matmos, and the quartet explore the sonic possibilities of everything from children's toys to instruments made by Angolan children from military rubble. "One of the things that I've been inspired by recently is how musicians can turn objects that were formerly violent into a musical statement," says Harrington.
On March 13, the quartet gathers disparate voices from the forbidding yet music-rich Arctic region, including Finnish musician Ritva Koistinen, who plays a plucked string instrument called the kantele; experimental Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq; Finnish accordion and sampler duo Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen; and Swedish artists Stefan Brisland-Ferner and Totte Mattsson, known collectively as Hurdy-Gurdy, who marry the old folk hurdy-gurdy to modern electronic processing.
For its final Perspectives concert on March 14, Kronos is joined by the young Korean composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Dohee Lee, before journeying to the Silk Road: first with the extraordinary rubê¢b player Homayoun Sakhi from Afghanistan, and then the Alim Qasimov Ensemble that features the father-daughter singing duo of Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova from Azerbaijan. The two specialize in the classical style of mugam, though their beseechingly ardent vocal fireworks transcend any language or cultural barriers. "In my opinion," says Harrington, "Alim and his daughter both belong on the very short list of totally inspired singers; they take their voices to incredible heights of imagination and passion."
What Kronos's Perspectives exemplifies, from their imaginative cross-cultural forays to the Riley _Kitundu daisy chain of artistic inspiration, is the very core of the quartet's identity and mission. "That's how music works," says Harrington. "Musicians share ideas. You hear something you love that shakes up your molecules a little bit, you share it with your friends, and pretty soon something else happens."
Kronos Quartet's Perspectives
Thursday, March 11 at 7:30 PM | Zankel
Kronos Celebrates Terry Riley
Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM | Zankel
Playing with Toys and Technology
with Margaret Leng Tan, Victor Gama and Matmos
Saturday, March 13 at 7:30 PM | Zankel
with Ritva Koistinen, Hurdy-Gurdy, Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen and Tanya Tagaq
Sunday, March 14 at 7:30 PM | Zankel
Music Without Borders
with Dohee Lee, Homayoun Sakhi and the Alim Qasimov Ensemble
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