A first listen to music from the San Francisco string four-piece Kronos Quartet provides an obvious recognition of talent and expertise of the classical string technique. But classical string sounds are only part of Kronos’ musical package, which is primarily experimental – drawing on sounds from sights as diverse as Bombay, India and the German industrial music scene. It is such a varied approach to musical composition that will draw fans to the Kronos Quartet’s performance at Lisner Auditorium this Sunday at 7 p.m.
Since its founding in 1973 by creative director and violinist David Harrington, violinists Harrington, John Sherba, and Hank Dutt and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler have cultivated a reputation as one of the most gifted and versatile modern string ensembles of today. With a repertoire of works that include over 40 released recordings, and contributions to various major motion pictures including “Requiem For A Dream,” 21 Grams, and the trailer for the second J.R.R. Tolkien “Lord of the Rings” adaptation, it is hard to define a musical category that encompasses all that is the Kronos Quartet.
According to Harrington, one of the most thrilling aspects of being part of the Quartet is “the freedom to pursue so many different projects and collaborations with various artists.” Kronos’ musical career has certainly included a roster of artists that is as diverse as it is impressive, with Philip Glass, Tom Waits, David Bowie and Dave Matthews as just a few of the many world-renowned composers and artists to have worked with the Quartet.
The collaborative effort is a particularly important component of the Quartet’s work which Harrington described as a sort of creative give-and-take from both what the Quartet may have in mind and what a separate artist may envision for a piece. “Amazingly, each collaboration is a different process, depending on the dynamics and creative vision of a particular artist,” said Harrington.
The Kronos Quartet’s open-minded and multi-dimensional approach to musical composition also extends to its selection of famous works to cover. A particularly memorable collaboration and cover for Harrington, personally, was a performance with Allen Ginsberg at Carnegie Hall in which the quartet provided a musical interpretation of the poem “Howl” which Harrington describes as a truly astonishing experience for both the Quartet and the audience. Kronos fans may also remember a popular cover in the 1980s of the Jimi Hendrix ballad “Purple Haze,” which helped propel Kronos to mainstream success.
Harrington says that the creative dynamic in the group lends itself a great deal to not only the Quartet’s critical achievements over the years but to the variety of their work as well. While each member may have his own unique musical tastes, “no one is really the boss of the Quartet,” he said. “Each member uses his imagination to add to a piece. It’s an exploration for all of us, and we respect each member’s contribution.”
Because of the sheer diversity of the Kronos Quartet’s work and the vast range of musical influences that spill out from a piece “a live setting is the best way to experience music from the Quartet” says Harrington.
The group’s Lisner performance Sunday night will feature work from their Grammy Award-nominated album “You’ve Stolen My Heart” (2005) and the album “Caravan” (2001), as well as unrecorded selections from the German industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten. The latter part of the evening will consist of a DC premiere of the recording “The Sad Park,” composed by Michael Gordon in memory of the Sept. 11 attacks. “The Sad Park” is a four-part piece that incorporates sounds of nursery school children recorded months after the 9-11 attacks in lower Manhattan. Harrington says that the piece is an expression of “the effect that Sept. 11 had on children. “The Sad Park” captures the purity and innocence of children, in their assessments and reactions to life” he said.
Harrington hopes that “The Sad Park” in particular among the rest of the works set for Sunday evening’s performance will resonate strongly with students in the audience. According to Harrington, the Kronos Quartet experience can be described best as an exciting exploration “when we put together a concert,” he said, “we’d like for the audience to have a sense of wonderment about what is musically possible.”
Kronos Quartet brings its experimental sounds to GW’s Lisner Auditorium Sunday 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-35. GW Students: $15.