One of my passions (aside from skiing) is music. I listen to all sorts of music and in particular classical music of all sorts. Prior to leaving for the UAE in the early ’90s I picked up two CDs, Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (forget the other work on it) and Winter was Hard performed by the Kronos Quartet. Winter was Hard contains a number of works composed by Barber, Riley, Scnittke, Weburn, and others. The pieces on the CD were similar enough to the music I was comfortable and familiar with, but the works pushed my tastes in music outwards!
A few years ago, I purchased another CD (the eponymously named Kronos Quartet) by the Kronos Quartet, this one with works by Glass, Hendrix (as in Jimi), Schulthorpe, Sallinen, et al. The works on this CD are more challenging than those on Winter was Hard. Many of the works have islands of familiar music but the sea of new music washes them away quickly.
Every now and then I would visit the Kronos Quartet touring website to see if they were going to be performing close by. Well a few months ago I noted not only would they be in state but in my “hometown” of Appleton Wisconsin at the Lawrence University Chapel on May 15, 2015. I discussed it with the wife and we agreed we would hear them live.
Kronos Quartet — The Program
I obtained the program and reviewed the list of works they were going to play and I recognized two. I recognized one from Winter was Hard and another I recognized from a YouTube video I had listened to as I was preparing myself for the concert. The first few pieces were solely the ensemble working their instruments without additional music. However, for the work Bombs of Beruit they utilized recorded dialog (memories of pre-civil-war Lebanon) and sounds of war from the Lebanese Civil War. The sad truth communicated by the piece is best summed up by George S. Patton Jr. (another native of California) “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” The ensemble played with desperation to make their music heard, but the sounds of the Lebanese Civil War dominated all.
The piece ended and so too the first half of the show — intermission.
The Kronos Quartet — The Second Half
The second half of the concert the ensemble used more recorded music and audio and played more string quartet arrangements of pop music. One piece was Last Kind Words by Geeshee Wiley who it was noted did her recording in Grafton Wisconsin! One other piece the ensemble performed was Dead Man’s Blues which was very appropriate and fortuitous given the announcement of BB King’s passing that very day.
They closed out with two more numbers took their bows (and the bows used to play their instruments) and received a standing ovation. I did not see any lighters held up but eventually the quartet returned and performed a song they called Wa Habibi an Arabic inspired piece of music. My wife recognized the song and hummed along (my wife spent 13 years in the Middle East and I six). Again the cycle of encore repeated and they came out and performed The Orange Blossom Special.
The Orange Blossom Special is a train song and there is a recording I have of Johnny Cash performing the tune. The tune came in and out of familiarity with the rendition I am familiar with. All in all it was a lively tune and had me shaking my bones (in a restrained manner, remembering my manners). With the conclusion of the rousing rendition of that song, the quartet walked off the stage for the final time. The lights came on and my fellow audience members, Lorie, and I began to exit the Chapel.
Kronos Quartet — My Thoughts
The sounds in the chapel were exquisite. Immediately, the difference between live music and recorded music were obvious. I really appreciated that and closed my eyes so the sound would register and no other senses would distract. No complaints there. They played well and the program was good, the piece they selected (Flow by Laurie Anderson) to follow the Salome Dances for Peace was a great choice (I am used to Part’s Fratres here).
Kronos Quartet — on the Use of Recorded Audio
One of the things I seek out in live music is…live music! I was quite okay with the use of recorded audio in Bombs of Beruit as it was used to convey a very real message but the rest of the recorded music got in the way of the sound of the sweet strings. I know the ensemble uses other electronics in their music and if they were to perform Winter Was Hard I am sure they do not have a choir in tow to perform the vocal portions of the piece. However, I am there to listen to a string quartet and not recordings.
On the whole I enjoyed the performance very much and would not hesitate to recommend you going to see the Kronos Quartet when the opportunity presents itself and I would certainly not hesitate to see them again.
Bravo Kronos Quartet!