Crazy for Kronos Quartet

By Steven Libowitz   |   April 30, 2024
The Kronos Quartet celebrates 50 years of pushing the style forward (photo by Nación Imago)

Going back to its first concerts and recordings 50 years ago, Bay Area-based Kronos Quartet has made it a mission to revolutionize the string quartet as a living art form that not only sonically challenges the status quo but responds to the challenges of our era and issues. Dedicated to playing work almost exclusively by living composers, Kronos has commissioned more than 1,000 works and arrangements for string quartet that address war, the climate crisis, social injustice and more, not only maintaining its relevance but leading the charge, partly by fostering in-depth collaborations with many of the world’s foremost composers. 

To mark its milestone anniversary, the quartet created 50 for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, commissioning new works that are designed expressly for the training of students and emerging professionals and distributed online for free, although the quartet has played through all of them in live performances by now. The Kronos’ Five Decades tour makes a stop at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on April 27, long a favored site for its performances, where the Kronos will offer 10 pieces – all of which were written for the quartet. 

“I think musicians need to be searching for the most essential, beautiful, fabulous, groundbreaking, shocking music they can possibly find,” said Kronos founder and first violinist David Harrington. “There is so much action and so much potential for expression and for exploring the inner workings of our lives through the world of music. You’ll hear some of our recent discoveries when we bring them to Santa Barbara, things that make use of everything we’ve learned in these last 50 years.”

Harrington said that the program he put together for the April 27 concert consists entirely of works the Kronos has never played here before. 

“I focused on putting something together that would be thrilling but also seem important given where we’re all at right now,” he said. “We hope our audience will feel empowered and more energized and maybe, hopefully, more full of wonder at the possibilities that creativity can offer us, and what music can give us as a people, as a society.” 

The upcoming concert will also serve as the local debut of the Kronos’ new cellist, Paul Wiancko, who last year became the first new member of the quartet in 45 years. Harrington said his arrival has been revelatory.

“We get his fabulous cello playing, and his ability as a composer, which we’ve never had before. Some of what I bring to the group in terms of composing programs and imagining recordings has a certain compositional element, but to actually have someone who goes home and writes music provides a different way for all of us to think about spontaneity in making music. When we play concerts, it feels like the music is being composed right now.”

As for possible retirement having reached the half century milestone, Harrington is having none of it. 

“I play the violin but my instrument is the string quartet. Ever since I was 14, I have heard the complete sound of two violins, viola and cello as my instrument. So there’s no way I’m going to step back from that. (And) people are writing some amazing music these days, and what’s possible in concerts is getting richer and more expansive every day. I am more inspired than I’ve ever been in my entire life.” 


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