Kronos Quartet, l-r: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, and Paul Wiancko, November 3, 2023 at Carnegie Hall. (credit: Stephanie Berger)

Kronos Quartet’s 50th Anniversary concert takes audiences on a colorful global musical journey

CONCERT REVIEW:
Kronos Quartet: Five Decades – A 50th Anniversary Celebration
November 3, 2023
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium
New York City, NY – USA
Kronos Quartet (David Harrington & John Sherba, violins; Hank Dutt, viola; Paul Wiancko, cello) and guest artists: Peni Candra Rini, vocals and gender; Laurie Anderson, keyboard, narration & violin; Tanya Tagaq, vocals; Ariel Aberg-Riger, story, art, and narration; Jake Blount, vocals and fiddle; Wu Man, pipa; Brian Carpenter, vocals, harmonica & harmonium; Jacob Garchik, trombone & tuba; Soo Yeon Lyuh, haegeu; Aizuri Quartet (Emma Frucht & Miho Saegusa, violins; Brian Hong, viola; Caleb van der Swaagh, cello); Attacca Quartet (Amy Schroeder & Domenic Salerni, violins; Nathan Schram, viola; Andrew Yee, cello); Bang on a Can All-Stars (Vicky Chow, piano; David Cossin, percussion; Arlen Hlusko, cello; Mark Stewart, cuitar; Ken Thomson, clarinet); PUBLIQuartet: (Curtis Stewart & Rubén Rengel, violins; Nick Revel, viola; Hamilton Berry, cello); Sō Percussion (Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski & Jason Treuting, percussion); Gregg August, bass; Iwo Jedynecki, accordion; Ayane Kozasa, viola; Reshena Liao, viola; with Ariel Aberg-Riger, Maria Emiliano, inti figgis-vizueta, Michael Gordon, Ilaria Hawley, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Haeon Lee, Missy Mazzoli, Angelica Negron, Peyton Nelesen, Ellen Reid, John Schaefer, Gabriella Smith, and Aleksandra Vrebalov, percussion.
Severiano BRISEÑO: El Sinaloense (“The Man from Sinaloa”) (arr. Osvaldo Golijov)
Gabriella SMITH: Keep Going (New York Premiere)
Peni Candra RINI: “Movement 1” from Segara Gunung (New York Premiere)
Laurie ANDERSON: “Nothing Left But Their Names,” from Landfall
Tanya TAGAQ: Sivunittinni (arr. Jacob Garchik)
Colonizer (Remix) (arr. Tanya Tagaq, Kronos Quartet, and Joel Tarman)
Ariel ABERG-RIGER: Swimming with Rachel Carson (World Premiere)
Hamza EL-DIN: Escalay (real. Tohru Ueda)
TRADITIONAL: We’re Stole and Sold from Africa (arr. Jake Blount and Jacob Garchik)
Michael GORDON: gfedcba (New York Premiere)
Wu MAN: “Silk and Bamboo,” from Two Chinese Paintings (real. Danny Clay)
MOONDOG: Choo Choo Lullaby (arr. Brian Carpenter)
Rahul Dev BURMAN: Mehbooba Mehbooba (“Beloved, O Beloved”) (arr. Stephen Prutsman and Kronos Quartet)
Terry RILEY: Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector

Gail Wein | 6 NOV 2023

Kronos Quartet took the audience at Carnegie Hall on a trip around the world Friday night. In a two-and-a-half-hour program that flew by in minutes, Kronos pulled out every trick in its arsenal for this retrospective concert. A wide array of some of the quartet’s favorite collaborators joined the group on stage to commemorate the ensemble’s 50th anniversary, including composer Laurie Anderson, pipa player Wu Man, and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq.

In his opening remarks, John Schaefer, the host of WNYC radio’s long-running New Sounds program, said that Kronos changed our thinking of what a string quartet is. Indeed, with each selection and each guest performer, the ensemble transformed itself into a Mexican street band, a gamelan ensemble, a pop group, a Chinese orchestra. Kronos can sound like anything but a string quartet – that’s been one of its hallmarks for fifty years. A short film by Sam Green, KRONOS at FIFTY, showed the violinist David Harrington reminiscing about the group’s beginnings in 1973. In Kronos’ current configuration, Harrington (the only original member) is joined by violinist John Sherba and violist Hank Dutt (both members since 1978), and cellist Paul Wiancko, who was hired on earlier this year.


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One of the more conventional-sounding works for string quartet on the program was the New York premiere of Michael Gordon’s gfedcba. This lively, mostly tonal work belied Gordon’s more repetitious output. Film elements added whimsy, and the audience chuckled through the final section, which displayed a kitten meme. This composition, along with nearly half the works on the program, was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, and almost every piece heard this evening was commissioned by or written for Kronos Quartet.

Happy shouts from the audience went up as Laurie Anderson took the stage for “Nothing Left But Their Names” from her composition Landfall. Ms. Anderson played a harmonium on stage left, quite a distance across the stage from the quartet. The text by Anderson concerned animal extinction, which she narrated in her signature deadpan style, and the strings provided a compassionate accompaniment. The set-up seemed dated, especially when she used an electronic distortion that lowered the pitch of her voice and made her sound a bit like the throaty actor Adam Driver.

Laurie Anderson performs as part of Kronos Quartet: Five Decades, A 50th Anniversary at Carnegie Hall. (credit: Stephanie Berger)

Laurie Anderson performs as part of Kronos Quartet: Five Decades, A 50th Anniversary at Carnegie Hall. (credit: Stephanie Berger)

Improvisational singer, avant-garde composer Tanya Tagaq (center) performing with Kronos Quartet (l-r: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, and Paul Wiancko), November 3, 2023 at Carnegie Hall. (credit: Stephanie Berger)

Improvisational singer, avant-garde composer Tanya Tagaq (center) performing with Kronos Quartet (l-r: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, and Paul Wiancko), November 3, 2023 at Carnegie Hall. (credit: Stephanie Berger)

Another warmly received guest artist was Tanya Tagaq, who has taken traditional Inuit throat singing techniques into 21st-century pop culture with vocal music that is more like tuned sounds than lyrical singing. Her composition Sivunittinni had the string players draw their bows behind the bridges of their instruments, producing scratchy sounds, while Tagaq breathed pitches into the microphone. The piece was commissioned via the Kronos Fifty for the Future initiative, an ambitious commissioning project that the quartet launched in 2015, encouraging the creation of dozens of new works. The sheet music for all of these compositions is available, free, for anyone to play.

Keep Going by the American composer Gabriella Smith was another New York premiere of a Carnegie co-commission. According to Smith’s program notes, the work addresses the intersection of music and climate activism. A recording of bird calls sounded both from the stage and throughout the hall at the beginning of the work, and string techniques included cellist Paul Wiancko rubbing what looked like a pumice stone over his strings. Tape elements included voices of climate activists, and Smith’s score echoed the tone and rhythm of their voices with the instruments, using the kind of compositional techniques pioneered by Scott Johnson in his seminal work John Somebody.


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Asian artists were well represented by pipa player Wu Man, Soo Yeon Lyuh on haegeum (a traditional Korean string instrument), and Indonesian composer and vocalist Peni Candra Rini. Rini’s Movement I from Segara Gunung is her response to environmental and climate concerns. Her gracefully sliding soprano voice improvised a melody over bowed and plucked strings, evoking the sound of Javanese gamelan. Even her stylized arm movements emulated traditional Indonesian dance.

Wu Man, a long-time Kronos collaborator, joined the quartet for “Silk and Bamboo” from Two Chinese Paintings (a Carnegie co-commission and one of the Kronos Fifty for the Future compositions). The string quartet with Chinese pipa transformed into a Chinese band, with Hank Dutt eschewing his viola to play woodblocks and gongs.

Chinese composer and pipa player Wu Man (center) performing with Kronos Quartet (l-r: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, and Paul Wiancko), November 3, 2023 at Carnegie Hall. (credit: Stephanie Berger)

Chinese composer and pipa player Wu Man (center) performing with Kronos Quartet (l-r: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, and Paul Wiancko), November 3, 2023 at Carnegie Hall. (credit: Stephanie Berger)

Dozens of performers flooded the stage for the final number, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector by Terry Riley, which he wrote for Kronos in 1982. Riley appeared on screen in a video introduction, offering greetings to the audience and well-wishes to Kronos. The musicians included younger string quartets who grew up with Kronos’s influence: Aizuri Quartet, Attacca Quartet, and PUBLIQuartet, a visceral demonstration of the legacy of the half-century reign of Kronos. Also on stage, all of the guest artists who appeared this evening, Sō Percussion, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, a dozen luminary composers including Missy Mazzoli and Angelica Negron, and even radio host John Schaefer on percussion. The twelve-minute piece climaxed with a joyful crescendo over the repeated ostinato.

Kronos Quartet’s golden anniversary celebration at Carnegie Hall was replete with cross-cultural and multimedia collaborators and compositions. In other words, it was an accurate representation of what Kronos has been doing for 50 years.

Terry Riley's "Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector" gathered all of the performers together as the grand finale of Kronos Quartet: Five Decades, A 50th Anniversary Celebration in Stern Auditorium on November 3, 2023.(credit: Stephanie Berger)

Terry Riley’s “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector” gathered all of the performers together as the grand finale of Kronos Quartet: Five Decades, A 50th Anniversary Celebration in Stern Auditorium on November 3, 2023.
(credit: Stephanie Berger)

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About the author:
Gail Wein is a journalist and publicist in classical music. As a freelance radio reporter, she creates classical music features for NPR, Voice of America and KUSC in Los Angeles. Her writing credits include The Washington Post, Musical America, Playbill, Symphony Magazine, New Music Box, Classical Source and other publications.

Read more by Gail Wein.
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