Kronos Quartet Any performance by Kronos Quartet is a special occasion. Three of the ensemble’s four woodwind performers have been playing together for more than three decades and have released more than 45 recordings. No run-of-the-mill chamber quartet, Kronos have collaborated with the a diversity of performers including Chinese pipa player Wu Man, a Romanian Roma band, and an Inuit throat singer named Tanya Tagaq. They have performed on stage with performers as diverse as Betty Carter, the Modern Jazz Quartet and David Bowie. Two recordings that stands out for jazz fans are Monk Suite, the music of Thelonious Monk (with bassist Ron Carter) and the Music of Bill Evans (with bassist Eddie Gomez and guitarist Jim Hall). Their most recent recording is a Smithsonian Folkways CD/DVD collaboration with Afghani Homayun Sakhi’s ensemble and Alim and Fargana Qasimov, an Azerbaijani father-and-daughter vocal duo.
For this set of performances in their hometown of San Francisco, Kronos appeared in a rented theater at the legendary Project Artaud, a co-housing artists community in the Mission District - a Hispanic and bohemian area which is rapidly becoming gentrified. The theater, with its long black wall curtains and tiered seating, was the perfect setting for Kronos’s unique performances.
The first number was the intense Bryce Dessner composition Aheym (Homeward).
Kronos’s David Harrington commissioned this piece which was first performed both in Prospect Park, Brooklyn (where Dessner grew up and still resides) and in Lodz, Poland, a city where his great-grandparents lived and through which his grandmother passed on her voyage to America. "Aheym" means "homeward" in Yiddish, and the composter relates that "this piece is written as musical evocation of the idea of flight and passage."
Just before the beginning of the second number, David Harrington, the first violinist, announced that the concert would be dedicated to Howard Zinn, the late professor and historian, who taught thousands of students (including this reviewer) at Boston University.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the next piece contained the intoning voice of a former student of Howard Zinn’s - namely artist Alice Walker. Her "September 11 mantra" - "One Earth, One People, One Love." inspired the Terry Riley composition of the same name, which is the concluding movement of his extraterrestrial- and space-oriented 2002-work "Sun Rings, " which Harrington also commissioned. In an interview, Riley has described the eclectic, minmalist work as being "largely about humans as they reach out from Earth to gain an awareness of their solar system neighborhood .Space is surely the realm of dreams and imagination and a fertile feeding ground for poets and musicians." He goes on to expound that "If only we will let the stars mirror back to us the big picture of the Universe and the tiny precious speck of it we inhabit that we call Earth, maybe we will be given the humility and insight to love and appreciate all life and living forms wherever our journeys take us."
A ticking sound marked the beginning of Steve Reich’s dissonant Triple Quartet (1999) in which Kronos plays live along with two previously recorded versions of Kronos.
Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler taped on his instrument to mark the start of Aviya Kopelman’s Widows & Lovers. This special commission, part of Kronos’s "Under 30 Project," a commissioning and residency program for composers under 30 years of age, was divided into three parts: White Widow, Lovers, and Black Widow. The first was named after "a potent and rare species of marijuana and the last after "the infamous species of spider whose female consumes the male."
The evening’s highlight was Music for 4 Fences, which features (as one might guess) four fences. It begins with a moment of silence. A white rectangle appears behind the musicians as lead violinist David Harrington wheeled over the first fence. He began to bow it, generating (as one might imagine) unearthly sounds. The other musicians wheel their own sections of fence over: each is wired for sound). Composer Jon Rose learned to bow the barbed wire rabbit fences of Australia, and David Harrington - taken by the idea that musicians can turn objects of confinement, detainment and violence into musical instruments - was inspired to commission the piece. Harrington says " Kronos attempts to make statements about our world. That we are surrounded by fences seems to be an essential part of the time we live in. There might be a way to transform the nature of fences, by bowing them."
The group encored with the eclectic Icelandic group Sigur Rós’s compositiion Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly Freer), which had been arranged for Kronos by Stephen Prutsman.