Kronos Quartet is the string quartet reimagined, having spent its 40 years exploring new sounds by bringing over 900 works and arrangements into the world and delving into an eclectic repertoire spanning 20th-century masters, contemporary composers, jazz legends, rock artists, and genre-defying creators. Kronos Quartet has won over 40 awards for their contributions and now bring their revelatory artistry to Caramoor with a dynamic program that promises to bring you new perspectives.
“Kronos Quartet has broken the boundaries of what string quartets do” — The New York Times
David Harrington, violin
John Sherba, violin
Hank Dutt, viola
Sunny Yang, cello
TraditionalThe House of the Rising Sun (arr. J. Garchik, after Everly Brothers) GershwinSummertime (arr. J. Garchik, after Janis Joplin) MeeropolStrange Fruit (arr. J. Garchik, after Billie Holiday) MingusChildren’s Hour of Dream (arr. Sy Johnson) WileyLast Kind Words (arr. J. Garchik) Terry RileySalome Dances for Peace: Good Medicine — Intermission — Aleksandra VrebalovMy Desert, My Rose Rhiannon GiddensAt the Purchaser’s Option with Variations (arr. J. Garchik) Laurie Anderson Flow (arr. J. Garchik) Steve Reich Triple Quartet
7:00pm Pre-concert conversation with David Harrington
David Harrington, violin
John Sherba, violin
Hank Dutt, viola
Sunny Yang, cello
For more than 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet — David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) — has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience. 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 60 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 900 works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos has received over 40 awards, including both the Polar Music and Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians, 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 eclectic repertoire for string quartet, performing and recording works by 20th-century masters (Bartók, Webern, Schnittke), contemporary composers (Vladimir Martynov, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Sahba Aminikia), jazz legends (Charles Mingus, Maria Schneider, Thelonious Monk), rock artists (Jimi Hendrix, The Who’s Pete Townshend, Sigur Rós), and artists who truly defy genre (performance artist Laurie Anderson, visual artist Trevor Paglen, filmmaker Sam Green).
Founded in 1973, Kronos Quartet has grown into a globally celebrated ensemble dedicated to combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience.
Integral to Kronos’ work is a series of long-running, in-depth collaborations with many of the world’s foremost composers. One of the quartet’s most frequent composer-collaborators is “Father of Minimalism” Terry Riley, whose work with Kronos includes Salome Dances for Peace (1985–86); Sun Rings (2002), a NASA-commissioned multimedia ode to the earth and its people that features celestial sounds and images from space; and The Serquent Risadome, premiered during Kronos’ 40th Anniversary Celebration at Carnegie Hall in 2014. Kronos commissioned and recorded the three string quartets of Polish composer Henryk Górecki, with whom the group worked for more than 25 years. The quartet has also collaborated extensively with composers such as Philip Glass, recording an album of his string quartets in 1995 and premiering String Quartets No. 6 in 2013 and No. 7 in 2014; Azerbaijan’s Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, whose works are featured on the full-length 2005 release Mugam Sayagi; Steve Reich, whom Kronos has worked with on recordings of the Grammy-winning composition Different Trains (1989), Triple Quartet (2001), and WTC 9/11 (2011); among many other composers and arrangers.
In addition to composers, Kronos counts numerous performers from around the world among its collaborators, including the Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man; Azeri master vocalist Alim Qasimov; legendary Bollywood “playback singer” Asha Bhosle, featured on Kronos’ 2005 Grammy-nominated CD You’ve Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman’s Bollywood; Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq; Mexican rockers Café Tacvba; the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks; the Malian griot musicians Trio Da Kali; and Iranian vocalist Mahsa Vahdat. Kronos has performed live with the likes of Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Jarvis Cocker, Zakir Hussain, Modern Jazz Quartet, Noam Chomsky, Rokia Traoré, Tom Waits, Rhiannon Giddens, Howard Zinn, Betty Carter, Van Dyke Parks, Caetano Veloso, k.d. lang, Amanda Palmer, Jherek Bischoff, The National, múm, and Lau’s Martin Green, and has appeared on recordings by artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Dan Zanes, Glenn Kotche, Dave Matthews Band, Nelly Furtado, Joan Armatrading, Don Walser, Angelique Kidjo, and Dan Wilson. In dance, the famed choreographers Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Eiko & Koma, and Paul Lightfoot and Sol León (Nederlands Dans Theater) have created pieces with Kronos’ music.
Kronos’ work has been featured prominently in a number of films, including the Academy Award-nominated documentaries How to Survive a Plague (2012) and Dirty Wars (2013), for which Kronos’ David Harrington served as Music Supervisor. Kronos also performed scores by Philip Glass for the films Mishima and Dracula (a 1999 restored edition of the 1931 Tod Browning-directed Bela Lugosi classic), by Clint Mansell for the Darren Aronofsky films Noah (2014), The Fountain (2006), and Requiem for a Dream (2000), by Terry Riley for François Girard’s Hochelaga terre des âmes (2017), and by Jacob Garchik for Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog — A San Francisco Fantasia (2017). Additional films featuring Kronos’ music include La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013), 21 Grams (2003), Heat (1995), and True Stories (1986), among others.
The quartet spends five months of each year on tour, appearing in concert halls, clubs, and festivals around the world including Carnegie Hall, Disney Hall, Barbican in London, BAM Next Wave Festival, Big Ears, Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, WOMAD, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Shanghai Concert Hall, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Sydney Opera House, Victoria Hall in Geneva, Switzerland, and Haydn Hall in Schloss Esterhazy.
Kronos is equally prolific and wide-ranging on recordings. The ensemble’s expansive discography on Nonesuch Records includes collections like Pieces of Africa (1992), a showcase of African-born composers, which simultaneously topped Billboard’s Classical and World Music lists; 1998’s ten-disc anthology, Kronos Quartet: 25 Years; Nuevo (2002), a Grammy- and Latin Grammy-nominated celebration of Mexican culture; and the 2004 Grammy-winner, Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite, featuring renowned soprano Dawn Upshaw. In celebration of the quartet’s 40th anniversary season in 2014, Nonesuch released both Kronos Explorer Series, a five-CD retrospective boxed set, and the single-disc A Thousand Thoughts, featuring mostly unreleased recordings from throughout Kronos’ career. Kronos’ most recent releases include One Earth, One People, One Love: Kronos Plays Terry Riley, a five-disc, four album box set that included the new release Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector: Music of Terry Riley; Folk Songs, which features Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant singing traditional folk songs with arrangements by Jacob Garchik, Nico Muhly, Donnacha Dennehy, and Gabe Witcher; Ladilikan, a collaborative album with Trio Da Kali, a “super-group” of Malian griot musicians assembled by Aga Khan Music Initiative; and vinyl re-releases of Pieces of Africa, Dracula, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain. Music publishers Boosey & Hawkes and Kronos have released two volumes of Kronos Collection sheet music, featuring works by Terry Riley, Hamza el Din, Aleksandra Vrebalov, and Osvaldo Golijov.
In addition to its role as a performing and recording ensemble, the quartet is committed to mentoring emerging performers and composers and has led workshops, master classes, and other education programs with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music, Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and through the Embassy Adoption Program (a program of Washington Performing Arts and District of Columbia Public Schools), among other institutions in the U.S. and overseas. Kronos has recently undertaken extended educational residencies at UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances, Holland Festival, Texas Performing Arts Association at the University of Texas at Austin, New York University Abu Dhabi, and Mount Royal University Conservatory.
With a staff of 11, the nonprofit Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA) manages all aspects of Kronos’ work, including commissioning, concert tours and local performances, education programs, and a self-produced Kronos Festival in San Francisco. In 2015, KPAA launched Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, an education and legacy project that is commissioning — and distributing for free — the first learning library of contemporary repertoire for string quartet. Designed expressly for the training of students and emerging professionals, ten new works (five by women and five by men) are being composed each year over the next five years. Scores and parts, as well as supplemental learning materials that include recordings, videos, performance notes, and composer interviews, are available on kronosquartet.org. Lead partner Carnegie Hall and an adventurous group of project partners, including presenters, academic institutions, foundations, and individuals, have joined forces with KPAA to support this exciting program, which, as of July 2017, has already seen the initial 15 scores be downloaded 3,000 times in 50 countries worldwide.
About the Music.
The House of the Rising Sun Arranged by Jacob Garchik, after Everly Brothers
With its murky origins, intimately distressing storyline, and irrepressible appeal over the course of a century, “The House of the Rising Sun” is the quintessential American folk song. While many in the United States discovered the tune via the chart-topping 1964 version by The Animals, “Rising Sun” started circulating around Appalachia at least five decades before the advent of the British Invasion. Claimed by African- American blues artists and old-time Appalachian and bluegrass players, “Rising Sun” exists in a protean state, equally effective when sung from a male or female perspective. Harrington was most deeply moved by the interpretation on the 1967 album The Hit Sounds of the Everly Brothers, “a version that is incredibly beautiful,” he says. “They stretched themselves on, with an unusual arrangement featuring a bowed bass.”
— Andrew Gilbert
1898–1937 Arranged by Jacob Garchik, after Janis Joplin
In the cradling blues of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” there’s a majesty which has embraced all sorts of audiences. In 1968, rock dynamo Janis Joplin sang “Summertime” in a fearless fashion which has managed to transcend genre and time, just as Gershwin had.
Raised in Texas, Joplin ended up on the west coast after Chet Helms, a fellow dropout from the University of Texas, heard her sing and convinced her to hitchhike with him to San Francisco. In 1966, Helms found Joplin a place with the rock band he managed, Big Brother and the Holding Company. They released “Summertime” on the album Cheap Thrills, in which Joplin delivers the insistent primal outcry of a talented, tortured soul.
Channeling the tension and stretched pitch in Joplin’s voice, Harrington deploys scortadura violin in Garchik’s arrangement of “Summertime.” The other quartet members innovate their use of bow and electronic effects to take listeners inside both Gershwin’s composition and Big Brother’s emblematic, almost baroque-like approach to it.
— Jeff Kaliss
Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of “Summertime” was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
1903–1986 Arranged by Jacob Garchik
Best known from Billie Holiday’s haunting 1939 rendition, the song Strange Fruit is a harrowing portrayal of the lynching of a black man in the American South. The song originated from a poem by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher and union activist from the Bronx who later set it to music under the pseudonym Lewis Allan in the late 1930s.
Strange Fruit was first performed at a New York teachers’ union meeting and was brought to the attention of the manager of Cafe Society, a popular Greenwich Village nightclub, who introduced Billie Holiday to the writer. Holiday’s record label refused to record the song but Holiday persisted and recorded it on a specialty label instead. The song was quickly adopted as the anthem for the anti-lynching movement. The haunting lyrics and melody made it impossible for white Americans and politicians to continue to ignore the Southern campaign of racist terror.
The lyrics read, in part:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the
Strange fruit hanging from the
Adapted from notes by Independent Lens for the film Strange Fruit.
Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of Strange Fruit by Abel Meeropol was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
1922–1979 Arranged by Sy Johnson
Children’s Hour of Dream
One of the most important figures in 20th-century American music, Charles Mingus was a virtuoso bass player, pianist, bandleader and composer. In addition to recording over 100 albums and writing over 300 scores, Mingus toured extensively until 1977, when he was diagnosed with Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis. Confined to a wheelchair, he was no longer able to write music on paper or compose at the piano, so his last works were sung into a tape recorder.
Children’s Hour of Dream, from Mingus’s two-hour masterwork Epitaph, is an intense piece showing the terror of a nightmare to a young sleeping child. Discovered after Mingus’ death, the score was restored by musicologist/conductor Gunther Schuller, who presented it in a concert in 1989. The New Yorker wrote that Epitaph represented the first advance in jazz composition since Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige of 1943. Convinced that it would never be performed in his lifetime, Mingus called his work Epitaph, declaring that he wrote it “for my tombstone.”
Sy Johnson’s arrangement of Children’s Hour of Dream by Charles Mingus was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Estates of Hans and Marian Ury.
Last Kind Words Arranged by Jacob Garchik
In 1930, Geeshie Wiley recorded “Last Kind Words” in Grafton, Wisconsin, for Paramount Records. Beyond this, very little information is confirmed about this singer’s life, though there are reports that she came from Mississippi. Nevertheless, her recording of “Last Kind Words” has given Wiley the reputation of being one of the great early blues musicians. Blues scholar Don Kent has written, “If Geeshie Wiley did not exist, she could not be invented: her scope and creativity dwarfs most blues artists. She seems to represent the moment when black secular music was coalescing into blues … [Last Kind Words] is one of the most imaginatively constructed guitar arrangements of its era and possibly one of the most archaic. Although the lyrics date it to the late World War I era, its eight-bar verse structure appears to be older.”
The lyrics read, in part:
The last kind words I heard my
*indent* daddy say:
‘If I die in the German war,
please don’t bury my soul.
Ah, child, just leave me out,
let the buzzards eat me whole.’”
Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of “Last Kind Words” by Geeshie Wiley was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
Good Medicine from Salome Dances for Peace
Terry Riley first came to prominence in 1964 when, with the groundbreaking In C, he subverted the world of tightly organized atonal composition and pioneered the musical aesthetic known as minimalism. He then quit formal composition in order to concentrate on improvisation. In 1979, Riley began notating music again when he and the Kronos Quartet were on the faculty at Mills College in Oakland. This relationship has yielded 27 works for string quartet. Good Medicine is the last section of Riley’s epic, two-hourlong, five-quartet cycle Salome Dances for Peace.
“The idea for Salome Dances for Peace came out of an improvisation theme from The Harp of New Albion,” said Riley. “David Harrington … asked me to write another string quartet. I thought it should be a ballet about Salome using her alluring powers to create peace in the world. So Salome in this case becomes like a goddess who — drawn out of antiquity, having done evil kinds of deeds — reincarnates and is trained as a sorceress, as a shaman. And through her dancing, she is able to become both a warrior and an influence on the world leaders’ actions.
“I’m always trying to find ways to contribute to world peace … I thought we ought to create a piece that could be played at the United Nations on special holidays — not just a concert piece but a piece that could be played as a rite.”
Salome Dances for Peace was commissioned for Kronos by IRCAM and Betty Freeman, and recorded by Kronos for Nonesuch Records.
My Desert, My Rose
Aleksandra Vrebalov moved to the U.S. from her native Serbia in 1995. Receiving numerous commissions from institutions and performers, her works have been performed internationally by soloists, ensembles, and orchestras. Vrebalov was named 2011 Composer of the Year by Muzika Klasika for her opera Mileva that was commissioned by the Serbian National Theater. She has also received acclaim for her collaborations with dance companies and filmmakers, and her music can be heard on Nonesuch and other labels.
Vrebalov writes, “My Desert, My Rose consists of a series of patterns open in length, meter, tempo, and dynamics, different for each performer. The unfolding of the piece is almost entirely left to each performer’s sensibility and responsiveness to the other quartet members. The patterns are suggested rather than fixed musical lines, so the flow and length of the piece are unique to each performance.
The lines separate and then meet again, each time in a more concrete way and the piece ends in a metric unison, like a seemingly coincidental meeting of the lines predestined to reunite. It is the journey of four characters who start in distinct places, and after long searching and occasional meeting points, and end up in the same space, time, and language.”
Arranged by Jacob Garchik
At the Purchaser’s Option, with variations
Rhiannon Giddens is best known as the lead singer, violinist, banjo player, and founding member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Her interest in country, blues, and oldtime folk music began in the Piedmont area of North Carolina, where she was raised. Giddens received the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Singer of the Year and has won the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo in 2016. In 2017, Giddens was named a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant Winner.
Rhiannon Giddens’ At the Purchaser’s Option with variations is an instrumental variation of a song from her album Freedom Highway, arranged by Jacob Garchik. She wrote the song after finding in a book a 19th-century advertisement for a 22-year-old female slave whose 9-month-old baby was also for sale, but “at the purchaser’s option.” This piece comes from that advertisement, and from thinking about what that woman’s life might have been like.
b. 1947 Arranged by Jacob Garchik
Known as one of America’s most daring creative pioneers, Laurie Anderson is a New York City–based musician, writer, director, and visual artist who has created groundbreaking works throughout the worlds of art, theater, and experimental music. Recognized for her innovative use of technology — a prominent feature of Landfall, her work for herself and Kronos — Anderson was appointed the first artist-in-residence of NASA in 2002. She is also the recipient of several awards honoring her contribution to the arts, including the 2007 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize and the Pratt Institute’s Honorary Legends Award.
Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of Flow by Laurie Anderson was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
Steve Reich has been recognized internationally as one of the world’s foremost living composers. Reich graduated from Cornell University and studied at The Juilliard School. After receiving his Master of Arts in Music from Mills College, Reich studied drumming at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana and traditional forms of cantillation (chanting) of the Hebrew scriptures in New York and Jerusalem. In 1994 Steve Reich was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
“Triple Quartet is dedicated to the Kronos Quartet,” Reich writes. It is for three string quartets. For any single string quartet to perform the piece they must prerecord quartets two and three and then play the quartet one part along with the prerecorded tape. Alternately, the piece can be played by twelve players with no tape.
“The piece is in three movements: fast-slow-fast. Rhythmically, the first movement has the second and third quartet playing interlocking chords while the first quartet plays longer melodies in canon. The slow movement is more completely contrapuntal with a long slow melody in canon in all twelve voices. The third movement resumes the original fast tempo, maintains the harmonic chord cycle but treats all the previous material more freely.”
Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, David A. and Evelyne T. Lennette, Patricia Unterman and Tim Savinar, and Meet the Composer/Arts Endowment Commissioning Music/USA, which is made possible by generous support from The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and The Catherine Filene Shouse Foundation
— Program notes are courtesy of KPAA unless otherwise indicated.