|David Harrington, violin||John Sherba, violin|
|Hank Dutt, viola||Jeffrey Zeigler, cello|
For nearly 40 years, the Kronos Quartet—David Harrington, John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola), and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello)—has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to expanding the range and context of the string quartet. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 45 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world's most eclectic composers and performers, and commissioning more than 750 works and arrangements for string quartet. In 2011, Kronos became the only recipients of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians. The group’s numerous awards also include a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and "Musicians of the Year" (2003) from Musical America. Kronos' adventurous approach dates back to the ensemble's origins. In 1973, David Harrington was inspired to form Kronos after hearing George Crumb's “Black Angels,” a highly unorthodox, Vietnam War-inspired work featuring bowed water glasses, spoken word passages, and electronic effects. Kronos then began building a compellingly diverse repertoire for string quartet, performing and recording works by 20th-century masters (Bartók, Shostakovich, Webern), contemporary composers (Aleksandra Vrebalov, John Adams, Alfred Schnittke), jazz legends (Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk), and artists from even farther afield (rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, Azeri vocalist Alim Qasimov, multimedia performer Meredith Monk). Kronos' music has also featured prominently in other media, including film (“Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain,” “21 Grams,” “Heat,” “True Stories”) and dance, with noted choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, and Eiko & Koma setting pieces to Kronos' music. The quartet is committed to mentoring emerging professional performers, and in 2007 Kronos led its first Professional Training Workshop with four string quartets as part of the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. Subsequent workshops at Carnegie Hall and other venues have expanded this aspect of the quartet’s work. One of Kronos' most exciting initiatives is the Kronos: Under 30 Project, a unique commissioning and composer-in-residence program for composers under 30 years old, launched in conjunction with Kronos' own 30th birthday in 2003. By cultivating creative relationships with such emerging talents and a wealth of other artists from around the world, Kronos reaps the benefit of 30 years' wisdom while maintaining a fresh approach to music-making inspired by a new generation of composers and performers.
The Kronos Quartet appears by arrangement with Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association, P. O. Box 225340, San Francisco, California 94122-5340.
Bryce Dessner (born Cincinnati, 1976)
Aheytm (Homeward) (composed 2009, written for Kronos)
Twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner comprise two-fifths of the indie rock band The National, in which Bryce serves as guitarist. He earned a master’s degree in classical guitar from Yale. In 2006, Bryce founded Cincinnati’s MusicNOW Festival, where “Aheym” received its premiere performance on March 12, 2009. Bryce Dessner has written the following about “Aheym”:
David Harrington asked me to write a piece for Kronos Quartet for a performance in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I live just two blocks from the park and spend many mornings running around it. The park for me symbolizes much of what I love about New York, especially the stunning diversity of Brooklyn with its myriad cultures and communities. My father’s family, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, also lived near the park for many years in the 1940s and ’50s before moving to Queens. In discussing the new piece, David proposed to perform the work in Brooklyn, and then to retrace the journey of my grandparents and perform it in Lodz, Poland, a city where my great-grandparents lived and through which my grandmother passed on her voyage to America. Aheym means "homeward" in Yiddish, and this piece is written as musical evocation of the idea of flight and passage. As little boys, my brother and I used to spend hours with my grandmother, asking her about the details of how she came to America. She could only give us a smattering of details, but they all found their way into our collective imagination, eventually becoming a part of our own cultural identity and connection to the past. In her poem Di rayze aheym, the American-Yiddish poet Irena Klepfisz, a professor at Barnard in New York and one of the few child survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto, writes: "Among strangers is her home. Here right here she must live. Her memories will become monuments." Aheym is dedicated to my grandmother, Sarah Dessner.
Smyrneiko Minore (as sung by Marika Papagika (1890-1943); arranged for Kronos by Jacob Garchik (born 1976))
“Rebetika” first emerged from the urban cafes and hashish dens of the late Ottoman Empire as an amalgam of Greek and Turkish religious, art, and popular musical traditions. Think of the “rebetiko” (the singular form) as the Greek cultural equivalent of Portuguese fado, Argentine tango, or Spanish flamenco, originating among the lower classes in the 1890s and gradually gaining respectability.
Born just off the Turkish coast on the Greek island of Kos, singer Marika Papagika emigrated first to Egypt, where she began her singing career while still a teen. In 1915, she and her cimbalom-playing husband and accompanist Kostas arrived in New York. In spite of political tensions between Turkey and Greece, Papagika was willing to perform songs in the languages of both nations. Among the first things she recorded for Victor Records in the United States was the traditional rebetiko entitled “Smyrneiko Minore” (Smyrnaic Air). Papagika would go on to record more than 230 songs during her performing career. The Greek-American music café that she and Kostas ran in New York closed in 1930, after the Wall Street Crash.
Thanks at least in part to such Greek composers as Mikis Theodorakis, who began to introduce rebetiko elements into his music in the 1960s, rebetika were rediscovered resulting in the re-release of many early recordings, including several of Papagika’s. One stanza of “Smyrneiko Minore” goes: “If you love me and it’s a dream / May I never wake up / In the sweet dawn / God lets me take my soul away.”
Composer and trombonist Jacob Garchik has transcribed and arranged numerous pieces for the Kronos Quartet. He has worked with such luminaries as Lee Konitz, Steve Swallow, and Anthony Braxton.
“Smyrneiko Minore,” arranged by Jacob Garchik, was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
Kim Sinh (born Hanoi, April 2, 1930)
Lưu thủy trường (arranged 2012 by Jacob Garchik, born San Francisco, October 12, 1976)
Blind since the age of three months, Kim Sinh (whose real name is Nguyen Van Sinh) grew to become one of Vietnam’s most renowned performers of traditional music. In 1983, he was named a “Vietnam Artist of Merit” by the government. Although he claims never to have heard American blues before adopting his unusual style of playing, Kim Sinh bends notes much as blues players do. Among the various Vietnamese folk instruments he plays, Kim Sinh also uses a European guitar with scalloped fret spacing that maximizes his ability to bend those notes.
Kim Sinh has taught at the Vietnam National Academy of Music, where he trained many of Vietnam’s finest performers. After officially retiring in 1990, he has since recorded and released the CD “The Artistry of Kim Sinh” in 1993, toured throughout Japan in 1996, and visited the United States in 1997. “Lưu thủy trường,” which translates as “running water,” is based on a traditional Vietnamese folksong and is arranged in 2012 by Jacob Garchik.
Omar Souleyman (born Ras-Al-Ain, Syria, 1966)
La Sidounak Sayyada (I’ll Prevent the Hunters from Hunting You) (arranged by Jacob Garchik, born 1976)
Controversy rages about the artistic authenticity of Syrian musician Omar Souleyman and the sometimes ecstatic reception he has enjoyed in the West. Since 1994, he has inundated the Syrian market with over 500 mostly live recordings of the Syrian dance music known as “dabke.” What Syria hears as wedding music strikes some Western ears as a distorted blend of punk and techno. In any case, it caught the ear of Icelandic superstar Björk, with whom Souleyman collaborated on a 2011 set of remixes.
Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of Souleyman’s “La Sidounak Sayyada” was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
Laurie Anderson (born Chicago, June 5, 1947)
Flow (composed 2010, arranged by Jacob Garchik, born 1976)
Laurie Anderson began playing the violin as a five-year-old in Chicago, but studied art history at Barnard College and sculpture at Columbia. The blend of the musical and the visual strongly informed her emergence as one of the most important performance artists during the 1970s. Her 1980 recording “O Superman” became an utterly unexpected hit. In 1983, she presented her seven-hour epic “United States I-IV.” Anderson hosted the 1987 public television series “Live from Off Center,” which introduced experimental art to wide audiences. She became the first artist-in-residence for NASA in 2002, resulting in her solo work “The End of the Moon.”
“Flow” originally appeared on her 2010 Nonesuch album entitled “Homeland” and was nominated for the Best Pop Instrumental Grammy Award. Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of “Flow” was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
Richard Wagner (born Leipzig, May 22, 1813; died Venice, February 13, 1883)
Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (composed 1856-1859; arranged 2012 by Aleksandra Vrebalov, born Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, September 22, 1970)
Say what you will about Richard Wagner the man – womanizer, racist, anti-Semite – but his influence on music, philosophy, and the arts is undeniable. Wagner’s notion of “Gesamtkunstwerk,” the all-encompassing artwork, was his attempt to unify all of the arts through theatre. Wagner set aside composition of his own Gesamtkunstwerk, “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” to take up a rendering of the medieval Celtic legend to which he gave the title “Tristan und Isolde.”
The knight Tristan is transporting the Irish princess Isolde to Cornwall, where she is to marry Tristan’s uncle, King Mark. Isolde, however, determines to kill Tristan for having murdered her betrothed, Morold. Isolde’s maid Brangäne replaces the poison intended for Tristan with a love potion, rendering Tristan and Isolde passionately in love with each other. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t end well.
The opera itself, on the other hand, begins exceedingly well with two of the opera’s pervasive motifs: the descending phrase of “longing” and the ascending phrase of “desire.” At their juncture sounds perhaps the most celebrated and influential chord in music history, the “Tristan chord,” which defied tradition and led eventually to the breakdown of tonality in the twentieth century.
Although Wagner completed “Tristan” in August 1859, it would not receive its premiere performance until June 1865. In the meantime, however, the composer extracted the “Prelude” to Act I and the “Liebestod” (“love-death”) from Act III (Isolde’s aria “Mild und leise wie er lächelt”) for independent performance. Aleksandra Vrebalov arranged the “Prelude and Liebestod” in 2012 for the Kronos Quartet.
Steve Reich (born New York, October 3, 1936)
WTC 9/11 (composed 2010 for Kronos)
Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and a finalist three additional times, Steve Reich was among those who first developed what became known as minimalism. “WTC 9/11” is Reich’s third work for the Kronos, concerning which he writes:
In 2009 the Kronos Quartet asked me for a piece using pre-recorded voices. My first idea was to elongate the speaker’s final vowels or consonants. Stop Action sound. Impossible in 1973 when I first thought of it. Possible in 2001 when ‘Dolly’ was begun. In this piece it was to be, and is, the means of connecting one person to another – harmonically. I had no idea who was speaking. No subject matter. After several months I finally remembered the obvious. For 25 years we lived four blocks from the World Trade Center. On 9/11 we were in Vermont, but our son, granddaughter, and daughter-in-law were all in our apartment. Our phone connection stayed open for six hours, and our next-door neighbors were finally able to drive north out of the city with their family and ours. For us, 9/11 was not a media event. By January 2010, several months after Kronos asked me for the piece, I realized the pre-recorded voices would be from 9/11. Specifically, they would start from publicly accessible recordings by NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] and FDNY [the New York City Fire Department], and then from interviews with former friends and neighbors who lived or worked in lower Manhattan.‘WTC’ is also an abbreviation for ‘World to Come,’ as my friend composer David Lang pointed out. After 9/11 the bodies and parts of bodies were taken to the Medical Examiner’s office on the east side of Manhattan. In Jewish tradition there is an obligation to guard the body from the time of death until burial. The practice, called Shmira, consists of sitting near the body and reciting Psalms or Biblical passages. The roots of the practice are, on one level, to protect the body from animals or insects, and on another, to keep the neshama, or soul, company while it hovers over the body until burial. Because of the difficulties in DNA identification, this went on for seven months, 24/7. Two of the women who sat and recited Psalms are heard in the third movement. You will also hear a cellist (who has sat Shmira elsewhere) and a cantor from a major New York City synagogue sing parts of Psalms and the Torah. ‘WTC 9/11’ is in three movements (though the tempo remains unchanged throughout).
The piece begins and ends with the first violin doubling the loud warning beep (actually an F) your phone makes when it is left off the hook. In the first movement there are archive voices from NORAD air traffic controllers, alarmed that American Airlines Flight 11 was off course. This was the first plane to deliberately crash into the World Trade Center. The movement then shifts to the FDNY archives of that day telling what happened on the ground. The second movement uses recordings I made in 2010 of neighborhood residents, an officer of the Fire Department and the first ambulance driver (from Hatzalah volunteers) to arrive at the scene, remembering what happened nine years earlier. The third and last movement uses the voices of a neighborhood resident, two volunteers who took shifts sitting near the bodies, and the cellist/singer and cantor mentioned above. Throughout ‘WTC 9/11’ the strings double and harmonize the speech melodies and prolonged vowels or consonants of the recorded voices. You will hear a total of three string quartets, one live, and two pre-recorded. The piece can also be played by three live quartets and pre-recorded voices. ‘WTC 9/11’ is only 15 and a half minutes long. While composing it I often tried to make it longer, and each time it felt that extending its length reduced its impact. The piece wanted to be terse.
Missy Mazzoli (born Pennsylvania, 1980)
Harp and Altar (composed 2009)
According to what is likely her own description, “Missy Mazzoli is a delinquent tap dancer turned insomniac composer, whose influences range from Beethoven to Balinese Gamelan.” She studied composition with John Harbison and Charles Fussell at Boston University, earning her Bachelor of Music in 2002. That year, she traveled to the Netherlands on a Fulbright Grant, studying with Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. During 2004, she was a composer-in-residence at Amsterdam’s STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music). In 2006, she went on to receive her Masters of Music from Yale, where she has also taught composition.
Mazzoli has been awarded a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, grants from the American Music Center and the Jerome Foundation, and three ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Awards. She serves as the Executive Director of New York’s MATA Festival of New Music, founded by Philip Glass. In 2005, she helped found the musical/political collective Free Speech Zone Productions. In 2007, Mazzoli founded the Brooklyn-based all-female quintet Victoire, devoted to playing her works. She also plays piano in the electro-acoustic band Hills Not Skyscrapers and in the Shy Girl New Music Ensemble.
Concerning Harp and Altar, Mazzoli has written:
Harp and Altar is a love song to the Brooklyn Bridge. The title comes from a poem by Hart Crane, in which he describes the Brooklyn Bridge as ‘that harp and altar of the Fury fused.’ The Borough of Brooklyn is impossible to describe, but the Brooklyn Bridge seems to be an apt symbol for its vastness, its strength and its history. Halfway through the work the vocalist sings fragments of these lines from Crane's poem ‘The Bridge’:
Through the bound cable strands, the arching path
Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings,
Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate
The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.
Crane lived for some time at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn, in an apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Only after completing his poem did Crane learn that one of its key builders, Washington Roebling, had once lived at the same address. Every day I take long walks around my Brooklyn neighborhood, often ending up at the site of the house where Crane lived when he wrote these lines. In writing this piece for the Kronos Quartet I tried to imagine the Brooklyn Bridge through Crane's eyes, a new monument to technology, a symbol of optimism and faith. Many thanks to the Kronos Quartet, Gabriel Kahane, Margaret Dorfman, and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund for making this work possible.
Sampled Vocals by Gabriel Kahane. Missy Mazzoli's Harp and Altar was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Margaret Dorfman and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund.
Ram Narayan (born Udaipur, India, December 25, 1927)
Raga Mishra Bhairavi: Alap (arranged by the Kronos Quartet, transcribed by Ljova [born in Moscow, August 18, 1978] from a 1989 Narayan recording)
Although Ram Narayan came from generations of musicians, had the family’s genealogist and spiritual advisor (the “Ganga guru”) not left his sarangi at the family home, the child Narayan might never have discovered it and changed the course of its history. The sarangi, a short necked bowed string Rajasthani folk instrument, had traditionally accompanied vocal performers only, but Narayan transformed it into a solo instrument.
“Bhairavi” is an early morning North Indian heptatonic raga. In other words, it is based on a scale of seven notes, each of which has specific rules about its use in ascent and/or descent and in relationship to each other. Often regarded as the most important of the classical Hindustani ragas, “Bhairavi” reflects solemnity, strength, and calm. “Alap” is the introductory, improvisatory section. “Ljova” is the nickname of Moscow-born violist, composer, and arranger Lev Zhurbin, son of poet Irena Ginzburg and composer Alexander Zhurbin.
Nicole Lizée (born Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, 1973)
Death to Kosmische (composed 2010)
Now based in Montréal, Nicole Lizée is a Saskatchewan-born composer and keyboard player who earned her Bachelor of Music from Brandon University in Manitoba and Master of Music from McGill University. Because her father is a collector and repairer of old electronic equipment, she has always had a fascination for the sounds of vintage technology, reflected in the two electronic oddities included in “Death to Kosmische.”
“Kosmische Musik” was a variety of experimental electronic music pioneered in the late 1960s and early 1970s by such German rock groups as Can, Kluster, Faust, and Popol Vuh. Here’s what Ms. Lizée has to say about the work:
Death to Kosmische is a work that reflects my fascination with the notion of musical hauntology and the residual perception of music, as well as my love/hate relationship with the idea of genres. The musical elements of the piece could be construed as the faded and twisted remnants of the Kosmische style of electronic music. To do this, I have incorporated two archaic pieces of music technology (the Stylophone and the Omnichord) and have presented them through the gauze of echoes and reverberation, as well as through imitations of this technology as played by the strings. I think of the work as both a distillation and an expansion of one or several memories of music that are irrevocably altered by the impermanence of the mind. Only ghosts remain.
Nicole Lizée’s “Death to Kosmische” was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Margaret Dorfman and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund.