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Kronos Quartet: 25 Years

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Kronos Quartet: 25 Years

At my talk yesterday, one person asked about the Kronos Quartet. Coincidentally, that same day I received from Amazon the box of ten CDs of their 25th Anniversary collection.

The Kronos Quartet, as we learn from the extensive notes in the booklet accompanying the discs, was founded in 1973 in Seattle by violinist David Harrington. In the first few years there was some turnover of personnel before settling into the long-term lineup that included violinist John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. The plan from the very beginning was to reconceive the string quartet in a new way that would be an ideal medium for composers in the last quarter of the 20th century and on into the future. They were spectacularly successful in this regard and ended up commissioning some four hundred pieces by a wildly diverse group of composers. They created an audience of young, enthusiastic listeners who were open to all sorts of new kinds of music.

What the heck, let's review the box. Disc 1 is devoted to John Adams and Arvo Pärt. I have mixed feelings about John Adams--some pieces I really love, but others I find tedious. The music here, John's Book of Alleged Dances (1994) is new to me and on first listening, it is a real winner, displaying Adams' humorous side with titles like "Dogjam" and "Toot Nipple." The music is a suite of crazed and inventive dances that continues to surprise. This is followed by four pieces by Arvo Pärt that, while not very surprising if you know his music, are certainly a faithful performance of his mystical, hazy harmonies. The piece new to me was the Missa Syllabica for string quartet and quartet of singers.

Disc 2 is music by Ken Benshoof, the first composer commissioned by the quartet (first commission payment was a bag of donuts!) and Harrington's composition teacher at the University of Washington. The  first piece, the original commission, Traveling Music (1973), is a real delight, moving imperceptibly from downhome sashaying to more incisive expression. Also included is a newer piece, Song of Twenty Shadows (1994). The rest of the disc is devoted to music by Astor Piazzolla and the quartet are joined by the composer himself on bandoneón. This is a very faithful performance of Piazzolla which means that since I didn't like his music much before, I like it even less now. Sorry! But I find Piazzolla to be tedious in the extreme with his meticulous exploration of two and only two moods, neither of which I care for.

Up next are two discs devoted to Morton Feldman and Philip Glass which I will take up in a future post. For now, let's have an envoi of Ken Benshoof's Traveling Music:

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