Music: The Kronos Quartet

Kronos, a string quartet like no other, brings its eclectic music to Miami U.

Jan 11, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Kronos Quartet: (Left-Right) David Harrington, John Sherba, Jennifer Culp, Hank Dutt

At Kronos World Headquarters in San Francisco, violinist David Harrington is just finishing a rehearsal for the Kronos Quartet's upcoming tour. On the phone, in the first of several interviews he will do during the evening, Harrington talks enthusiastically about the quartet's past achievements and their upcoming concert at Miami University.

For the Miami concert, the string quartet will perform selections from their recent CD, Caravan, a global masterpiece featuring composers and musicians from Portugal, Argentina, India, Mexico and the Middle East. The concert will also feature the American premiere of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks' Quartet No. 4 and the world premieres of M. Venado de Campo's "Cuatro Milpas" and "Tabú" by Margarita Lecuona. Harrington offers a brief preview of concert highlights.

"Peteris Vasks wrote this fourth quartet for us last year," Harrington says. "It's one of our favorite recent pieces. It is so beautiful, and it's kind of heartbreaking at the same time. There are a lot of elements of Latvian Folk music, a lot of songs that appear and then reappear, and we think it will be a very nice way to end the concert. Actually we played it a few weeks ago in Mexico, and it was quite an experience.

"Tabú' is one of the sexiest pieces — songs — that's ever been written as far as I can tell," Harrington continues with a laugh. "We asked Osvaldo Golijov (Argentinian composer and regular Kronos collaborator) for a new version of this piece. So you're going to get to hear it first."

As for the other world premiere, "Cuatro Milpas," Harrington says he'd like to leave it as a surprise. "It's a very short piece, but I can say this: It's played outdoors in Mexico. But beyond that I don't want to tell you what's playing or who's playing it, but you'll see."

The Kronos Quartet's most recent release is the soundtrack from Darren Aronofsky's harrowing addiction drama, Requiem for a Dream. The somber score mixes a typically impassioned Kronos performance with composer Clint Mansell's Industrial rhythms. Harrington, however, says he's not yet sure whether Kronos will play selections from the film during their upcoming tour. I ask him jokingly if he's concerned that some fan of the film's soundtrack might shout out for the Requiem piece, "Marian Barfs," mid-concert.

"Well 'Marian Barfs' is one of the great moments in the film, in terms of the music," he laughs. "In fact, that's one of the sections that Clint Mansell is going to be working up for us. But in order to do that, we need the percussive elements on tape, and we need to be sure we know where they are with respect to what we recorded and everything. I just talked to Clint the other day, and he's working out a way that we'll be able to do several of the key scenes in concert. So if we get that material in time, I would love to play it."

Although Kronos formed 28 years ago, there has been little change within the group since their lineup settled in the late '70s. But after 20 years of touring and recording, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud left the group in 1999 to pursue other musical adventures. (The rumor that Jeanrenaud was forced to leave the group after losing a "Devil Went Down to Georgia" ­style duel with Dixie Chicks fiddler Martie Seidel is unsubstantiated.) The group's newest member is Jennifer Culp, who has quickly gained praise both inside and outside the quartet.

"I don't even think of Jennifer as a new member anymore," says Harrington. "All I can say is we just finished this amazing rehearsal, and I just love her energy and vitality. We're used to having great cellist in Kronos, and it's nice that that tradition has continued."

Another continuing Kronos tradition is to work with new composers and to build mutually beneficial musical relationships. Harrington elaborates: "Terry Riley is writing two new pieces for us right now. One of them is going to be using sounds from the Voyager explorations that have been recorded on several of the planets. And he is writing another piece for Kronos and Wu Man (the pi pa master, a traditional Chinese lute), but he's written 13 other pieces for us in the past 20 years. But he wouldn't be able to do these new things if we didn't have that relationship, and we wouldn't either. Kronos tends to develop relationships that go on for a long time. We don't do something just to do it. For me, being a musician and being in Kronos is something I'm going to do until I drop. Each piece leads to the next piece and each relationship. I'm not interested in something that hasn't been prepared by the work we've already done."

Over their history, Kronos have performed over 600 pieces, and they show no signs of slowing down. Currently on their schedule are concerts with a Romanian group, Taraf de Haïdouks, and with a Turkish composer, Burhan Ocal, as well as working up a new piece from former Television guitarist and singer Tom Verlaine. But through it all, the focus for Harrington has remained the same. Ever since hearing Harry Crumb's beautifully terrifying "Black Angels," the piece that inspired the formation of Kronos, Harrington has been looking for exciting new music.

"What I've tried to do since (hearing "Black Angels") is find the next piece, the next experience that feels like the music we just have to play. In the process a lot of composers from many parts of the world have wanted to write new pieces for us. Hopefully there's a real body of music that is happening within and around the Kronos Quartet."

THE KRONOS QUARTET play at 7:30 p.m. Jan 18, in Hall Auditorium, Miami University.