Friday, November 18, 2005

Kronos Quartet goes back to school

by Thomas Dimopoulos

SARATOGA SPRINGS - It took every one of the 235 seats at Filene Recital Hall to hold the capacity crowd for the sold out Kronos Quartet performance at Skidmore College Saturday night.

After a flight attendant-like rundown of the hall's fire exits - inspired no doubt by the tragic events at a Rhode Island nightclub 48 hours earlier - all the fireworks during the quartet's 90-minute-plus show came sonically.

''We perform about 100 shows a year all over the world,'' said violinist David Harrington, who founded the group 30 years ago. ''There are so many diverse voices that exist in this world.
Our work is a direct influence of those voices, and of our traveling experiences to Russia and Japan and throughout Europe and Asia,'' Harrington said. ''It's a great immersion.''

True to its embrace of an international repertoire, Kronos' program ranges from the sweet, eyebrow-arching melodies of Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes to the eerie, heart-pounding tension of the Romanian-influenced ''Doina.''

Other works originated in Yugoslavia, India, and South America. Among them, a sorrowful string adaptation of Tony MacMahon's Celtic tune ''The Fair-Haired Boy,'' a cacophonous ode
to Icelandic rock group Sigur Ros, and a haunting gypsy-like performance of ''Gloomy Sunday.''

The crowd was every bit as schizoid as the group's sound. Those closest to the stage were adorned in university couture - hipster slacks, black-framed eyewear and flaming streams of multi-colored hair.

The upper rows were flecked with the conservative gray of their more ''experienced'' brethren, giving the hall the appearance of part punk-rock rally, part blue-collar convention.

The quartet performed in a semi-circle, led by Harrington's controlled intensity.

Violinist John Sherba and viola player Hank Dutt added smooth notes in a cool, detached style.

Jennifer Culp, Kronos' newest member, made her cello stomp and hum with a deep, booming resonance.

There was magic and aural illusion in Harrington's ''sul ponticello'' - a form of musical trickery performed by playing close to the instrument's bridge, and in Dutt's string-plucking pizzicato.

During the performance of the Turkish song ''Nihavent Sirto,'' the quartet's shadowy outline projected onto a back wall; its dark silhouette capturing the group in a furious movement
whose syncopated bowstrokes conjured images of madmen raising their sticks in the darkness to do battle with the devil.

One of the evening's most enthusiastic audience responses came from vintage Kronos material - the 1980 piece written by Terry Riley, ''Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector,'' and in the jarring finale of Steve Reich's ''Triple Quartet,'' a work that barges forward in parallel movement, all the while being undercut by a sonic cross current of track and wire.
The piece was also one of several that augmented the quartet's performance with the use of a prerecorded soundtrack.

A standing ovation - complete with a streaming cry of the very UN-classical sounding ''woo-hoos'' - brought the quartet back for a pair of encores from the group's most recent
album, ''Nuevo.''

Here, they performed the sensual Cubano-throbbing beat of ''Tabu'' and the salacious
Esquivel tune ''Miniskirt,'' complete with humorous wolf whistles and cat calls.

After the performance, a good number in the crowd remained for a Q&A session that covered everything from advice to young composers to the quartet's avant-classical styles mixed with their rock 'n' roll persona.

Harrington talked about the state of music and creativity today.

''In my knowledge of music and music history, there has never been a time when there have been so many great musicians and composers as (there are) right now. It's a real good time to be a musician,'' Harrington said. ''Hopefully, it's a real good time to be a music audience, also.''

Originally published in The Saratogian, Feb. 27, 2003


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