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Kronos 25: Discs 7/8

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Title : Kronos 25: Discs 7/8
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Kronos 25: Discs 7/8

Disc 7 consists of two pieces that are pretty central to the contemporary string quartet repertoire. The first piece is Different Trains (1988) by Steve Reich that is a kind of musical documentary using vocal fragments and melodies derived from them. The conceit of the piece is a kind of connection between the trains Steve Reich rode from New York to Los Angeles when he was a child, traveling between one parent and another, and the trains that took the Jews of Europe to the death camps like Auschwitz. The piece is for live string quartet accompanied by three pre-recorded quartets and recorded voices and train sounds. Rather a miracle of coordination. The music was written for Kronos and yes, they pretty much own it.

The second piece, Black Angels (1970) by George Crumb, was what inspired David Harrington to form Kronos to play pieces like it and as many more new pieces for quartet as they could persuade composers to write. The piece is an icon of contemporary music and is written for amplified string quartet and exotic percussion. Some of the names of the movements are evocative: "Night of the Electric Insects" and "Sarabanda de la Muerte Oscura." It seems a lot more durable than a lot of other pieces from that era and in the Kronos performance, is powerful and convincing.

What unites these two composers is that they are both East Coast guys as opposed to the composer on Disc 8, Terry Riley, most certainly a West Coast guy. I could never quite figure out if I was a West Coast Canadian guy (I grew up on Vancouver Island) or an East Coast Canadian guy (I spent over a decade living in Montreal) so I resolved the problem by moving to Mexico.

Terry Riley is something of a legend in 20th century American music. After inventing minimalism in 1964 with his piece In C, he disappeared for a couple of decades. It was Kronos that lured him into composing notated music again. Disc 8 contains two complete pieces and excerpts from a third. Riley's music is a fusion of Eastern and Western elements together with ones from Native Americans. You can certainly hear the results of his study of North Indian vocal music. The first piece Cadenza on the Night Plain (1984) incorporates cadenzas for all four instruments into the suite structure. G Song, with its scalar material has just a slight resemblance to Philip Glass.

UPDATE: I forgot to say anything about the last piece on the Riley disc: this consists of excerpts from a much longer piece Salome Dances for Peace (1985-86). There are a lot of ornamented drones and one section that sounds like where Lady Gaga got her lick from Bad Romance.

Here is G Song, the first piece written for Kronos by Terry Riley.

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