experience in diversity
Joe Alexander looks at the musical heart behind the Kronos Quartet’s unconventional exterior.
Kronos are not your average string quartet. For one thing. they would never be seen dead in penguin suits; for another. they play a bewildering range of music which stretches from Liszt and Bartok to Jimi Hendrix and Omette Coleman. And they sell a lot of records.
Kronos are a phenomenon. and they have sparked a fashion for unconventional quartet repertoire which has been taken up by the likes ofthe Greene. . Balanescu. Brodsky and Smith Quartets. Founded by violinist David Harrington in 1973. the current line- up. which includes violinist John Sherba. violist Hank Dutt and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. have been together since 1978.
They have attracted the kind of attention usually reserved for rock stars. and while the natty stage gear and irreverent attitudes have been a major factor in that interest. it could not have been sustained had Kronos not also been able to deliver where it most mattered. The group have mastered some of the most difficult writing ever produced for string quartet. and have done so at a pace that has been nothing short of astonishing.
‘We are looking for music that totally grabs us, music which is red-blooded and has a certain wildness to it.’
‘With one or two exceptions. we seem to be playing almost exclusively commissioned pieces now.‘ Harrington says. ‘I would say that there are maybe as many as twenty people writing for us at any one time. and we like to work quite closely with the composers. That way. we can hear the voice of each because we know them and. on the other hand. when we get out on stage. the music doesn‘t feel as if it belongs to some anonymous composer somewhere. it belongs to us.
‘I think that people would come to one of our concerts to have their ears opened a little bit. to have an experience in diversity that maybe you couldn‘t get in some other places. Categories like jazz and classical have no meaning for me at all. When I think of John Zorn or Terry Riley or Steve Reich or anybody else whose music we play, I think of very individual personalities. and I think ofthe feelings I have with those people when we are in a room
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together. the sound of their voices. and the feeling we get when we are on stage playing their music. Each is so different. and there is no way I could say one is
jazz and one is classical. and so on — words like post- , modem and minimalism and avant-garde never come
into my thinking.‘
Their constant willingness to take on new work guarantees a stream of tapes and scores ﬂooding into their San Francisco office. while the group itself has cast its net as far as Africa in search of fresh music. There is no simple Kronos template against which potential works are judged; each chosen piece has its own significance. often linked directly to its particular cultural origins.
‘Wc are looking for music that totally grabs us. music which is red-blooded. and has a certain wildness to it — it may be gentle and soft. but underneath the surface it can also be totally wild. We are looking for those musical statements which are the kind of statements we want to make at any particular time.
‘I want to play concerts and make records which feel like they are a reﬂection of real people. and a lot
Kronn: Quartet: breaking down barriers
ofdifferent qualities that are needed to make a : concert. i look for qualities which seem to reﬂect the
beauty ofdifferences in people. A concert is a celebration of differences as well as a celebration of music in its widest context. and I want any concert we play to define the group.‘
‘Words like post-modern and minimalism and avant-garde never come into my thinking.’
Kronos make a rare Scottish appearance at the Festival Theatre. their first since a Glasgow Jazz Festival date back in 1990. The programme will include quartets from Eastern Europe by Sofia Gubaidulina and Henryk Gorecki. and rather more off-the-wall pieces from the New York scene by John Zorn and Don Byron.
K mnos Quarter play a! the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on Sat 23.
T in the Park, July 30th and 31 st at Strathclyde Park
The List l5-28 July I994 35