Concert Review (NYC): Kronos Quartet and Friends – Music from ’50 for the Future ‘, October 21, 2021

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Terms like “genre-bending” abound these days, and for good reason. Artists and ensembles from all over the world intersect, merge musical styles and traditions to create new works that challenge staid artistic habits and expectations. Often the results are interesting and even revealing.

Hardly anyone has been doing this for longer and with more confidence and punch than the venerable Kronos Quartet. In recent years, through its “50 for the Future” program, the group has focused on mentoring young musicians and training emerging composers by commissioning new music. Some of the fruits of this project fell from the tree Thursday night at the Merkin Concert Hall, where the Kronos and young guest artists presented powerful contemporary works, including three world premieres.

A show with all the accompaniments: the first parts

On stage, the members of the Kronos displayed a sober, almost erased mine. They let the music speak for itself. Nonetheless, the concert looked like a real spectacle, with the anticipation and equipment of a rock or pop concert: technical setup, colorful lighting, an audience that greeted the headliners with shouted enthusiasm, and two acts. opening.

First, the Special Music School Quartet – made up of students from the Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School – gave a warm rendition of Charlton Singleton’s “Testimony,” a blues mini-suite rooted in spirituals and rhythms. Gullah. But if the melodic conviviality of this work foreshadowed the arrival of music without challenge or easy to digest, it was not.

The dynamic and more refined Kodak Quartet (from the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University, co-host of the concert) followed by an exceptional reading of “Séraphîta” by Trey Spruance (from Secret Chiefs 3 and Mr. Bungle). Based, in part by programming, on Balzac’s novel of the same name, the piece presents musicians with delicate polyrhythms and hard-hitting drama, challenges they have skilfully overcome. However, all three of his movements wore a ring of sufficiency that put me off. This sentiment matched the composer’s discussion of the piece on the program, which read almost like a parody of an artist taking his art so seriously. But I can’t wait to learn more about the Kodak, currently the graduate string quartet in residence at Montclair State University, home of the Cali School.

The Main Event: The Kronos enters the scene

No such self-esteem accompanied the main event. The Kronos delivered a cornucopia of new multicultural and highly inventive compositions, none of which felt over-intellectualized. the music was so invigorating that when a crowd of student musicians emerged to join the Kronos in Philip Glass’s “Quartet Satz” (also a Kronos commission) at the end, this new if not terribly fresh setup comfortably familiar building blocks of the composer turned out to be disappointing despite the loud sound and youthful energy of the students.

The Kronos Quartet and student musicians at the Merkin Concert Hall

It was the flesh of the program that made the concert memorable. Composer Peni Candra Rini aims, with the intensely convincing “Maduswara”, to rejuvenate a particular dance form that accompanies the performances of Indonesian gamelan. No dancer appeared, but references to gamelan and elements abound (including hardware: bells and small gongs). Alternately hypnotic and abundantly expressive, the piece juxtaposes repetitive motifs with powerful gestures and fiery melodies, with microtons creating dissonances from another world. The musical tale distinctly evokes the narrative dances of the rich tradition of gamelan.

A kaleidoscope of cultures and musical traditions

Indeed, it is amazing how effortlessly the Kronos Quartet seems to simulate other instruments and instrumentation. They also did so with the world premiere of Reena Esmail’s arrangement of “Mishra Pilu” by Aruna Narayan, based on the Indian raag of that name. On a tape tanpura the hum of the strings carried the sounds of the sitar and even the tabla. Placing the piece in the middle of the program forced the excited listeners to abruptly switch to a contemplative state of mind. But it turned out to be a rewarding element of a wonderfully varied concert.

The world premiere of branching patterns by the inti figgis-vizueta averse au capital mixed more or less abstract simulations of the sounds of nature with what I imagined to be the soundtrack of a dream. This music dispenses with rhythm in favor of clusters and sound streaks. Sometimes Jackson Pollock’s drip paints came to mind. But the always surprising harmonies supported a sort of curious flow. I responded very viscerally.

Sky Macklay’s “Vertebrae” also made a strong impression. By exploring the harmonic and atmospheric potential of scales – chromatic, major – he obtains delightful original effects. The upward sweeps accompanied odd clashes of notes rubbing agitation against each other. Although rooted in some of the most fundamental constructs in music, the piece has taken flight to exotic and distant worlds.

The short and frantically rhythmic “Little Black Book”, by electronic producer Jlin and arranged for string quartet by Jacob Garchik, featured numerous string bows and a thundering bass drum struck by cellist Sunny Yang. It is probably safe to say that there is no era, style or tradition that the Kronos Quartet cannot encompass. With all the trends in the genre, there’s still no one like the Kronos – still alive and literally in action after 45 years. Visit their website for more information on upcoming concerts.

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