Before the Kronos Quartet’s second encore, I had a very different post in mind summarizing tonight’s concert.
After they played their arrangement of Sigur Rós’ “Flugfrelsarinn,” a billowing tapestry of lyrical melodies and lush harmonies, all four musicians stepped down off the platform and stood in front of the audience, seemingly taking their final bow. As the applause waned, David Harrington announced that they were going to do something brand new, that we were the first audience to experience this. After a couple minutes of set up and backs now turned to the audience, the four men looked up at the screen as a score of Penderecki’s String Quartet no. 1 filled the back wall of the McGuire.
As the Quartet dug in to the beyond-extended techniques required by the graphically-notated score, it was the first time in the evening that I felt really challenged something musically, even if the piece dates from 1960 and has become a touchstone in 20th century musical history. Much of the rest of the concert felt even more like a chamber concert. A chamber concert by the Kronos Quartet, with its mixture this evening of styles and genres from across the musical spectrum, but a chamber concert nonetheless.
The night seemed to pick up where it left off on Friday night, with a piece by Bryce Dessner entitled Aheym (Homeward), which continued Friday night’s exploration of place and geography, but with a much greater emotional import. Dessner is better known for his work in The National, and this was one instance in the evening’s program where the worlds of art music and popular music met in such a way that you didn’t care about musical origins or genres. The other was Missy Mazzoli’s Harp and Altar, its digitally chattering vocal samples both sharpened and melted by her gorgeous melodies and harmonies.
The same can’t be said for two of the other pieces on the evening’s program. Damon Albarn’s Untitled was the most adventurous the group got in the first half, opened similar to Schoenberg’s slow-moving Farben, yet soon became a highly disjunct and sporadic series of techniques. Bloodstone, which in Harrington’s words is a remix of Amon Tobin’s remix of a Kronos rehearsal, was similarly disappointing, not so much for the string parts, but for the clichéd beat that came in part way through, heightening the separation between the two elements, rather than dissolving it.
The other works of the evening fared better, especially Michael Gordon’s Clouded Yellow, with its lilting violin opening that returned throughout the piece and its highly ambiguous ending, and Laurie Anderson’s Flow. For this piece, each member muted its strings, giving the sound a far-off quality, as if shrouded by an invisible mist. My only criticism was that the piece wasn’t long enough.
The ups and downs of the concert, however, were all forgotten with their performance of the Penderecki. While some audience members giggled as a red line moved through the score to keep the players together, each musician did just about everything you could to the strings of his instrument. I left Friday’s concert desiring more musical adventure by the Quartet tonight, and though I had to wait until the very end, they didn’t disappoint.
Get Walker Reader in your inbox. Sign up to receive first word about our original videos, commissioned essays, curatorial perspectives, and artist interviews.