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Exclusive Interview: Kronos Quartet Announces a Summer Festival and Drops a New Album

Kronos Quartet (Left to Right: John Sherba, Sunny Yang, Hank Dutt, David Harrington)

Kronos Quartet (Left to Right: John Sherba, Sunny Yang, Hank Dutt, David Harrington)

Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

The world-renowned Kronos Quartet stopped by WFMT to perform a live concert on Impromptu Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 1:00 pm. For a podcast of the broadcast, click here.

In anticipation of their visit, the ensemble’s founder, violinist David Harrington, spoke with WFMT about their current and upcoming projects, which include performances across the United States, the release of a new album, and an upcoming music festival. He also gives us a preview of what listeners will be lucky to hear live from the WFMT studio later this week.

You’ve been very busy recently, can you tell us about some of your recent and upcoming engagements?

We just came from New York City. We played at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night [March 7, 2015] and it was really a high point for us because we were able to perform with forty-five young players from a program called Face the Music. We are mentoring and coaching these junior high and high school kids and they joined us for our American premiere of Merlijn Twaalfhoven’s On Parole. We ended the concert with music of Aleksandra Vrebalov playing her piece called Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 which we are playing on this tour and features a film by Bill Morrison. Five Serbian Orthodox monks joined us for that concert. They came all the way from Novi Sad, Serbia and it was just unbelievable to have them join us. We had performed together in Serbia in November, and I never thought we would be able to do it again, but to bring that sound, that ancient sound – it’s like 1200 years old – was wonderful and their singing was incredible. Aleksandra had incorporated their work into her piece and to have them join us in the United States was really thrilling. As we’re touring, there’s all sorts of music that we are encountering and that we are playing. We’ll be at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana [Tuesday, March 10, 2015], and later we’re at the Harris Theater in Chicago with Laurie Anderson, and then we move on to the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee in a couple months. We’re artists in residence at Big Ears and it’s really a cool festival, I can’t wait to be there. It’s non-stop music from the morning through the night. We’re doing – I think – five or six concerts in three days. I’ll be DJing and meeting with composers and of course I will be coaching young groups. I think we’re performing with six or eight of our collaborators, so it’s really a festival and we’re looking forward to it very much.

Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Laurie Anderson that is coming up at the Harris Theater in Chicago?

I first met Laurie Anderson about 30 years ago and the very first time I met her I asked her if she might write for Kronos, so I’ve wanted this to happen for all of these years. She’s come to many of our concerts, and we’ve come to many of hers. I think it’s about three years ago now that it eventually all worked out. It was the right time for her and the right time for us, so we started rehearsing together and experimenting and improvising and planning. Over the course of about a year, or maybe even more than that, this amazing experience began to be assembled. It was really something marvelous and we have been performing with Laurie for the last several years. As you know, she’s a very distinctive voice in music and in performance, and to be able to share the stage with her is just wonderfully inspiring and I think her music is so beautiful and poignant. I was just watching a video about climate change and her piece is called Landfall and it has to do with Hurricane Sandy and the effect it had on Laurie herself and New York City and many people, of course. The piece didn’t start out that way but then that hurricane happened during the composition and it became incorporated into the work in a very organic and beautiful way.

Besides Laurie Anderson, you’ve collaborated with so many exciting artists over the years. Are there any artists with whom you have always wanted to collaborate?

There are many people from the past that I wish we could’ve worked with. Jelly Roll Morton comes to mind and recently we found a way to incorporate his recorded performance of Dead Man Blues into a performance, so we restructured the past! There’re all sorts of people doing things now who I’d love to work with. You know, the time we live in right now is so dangerous and there’s so many awful things on the one side. But we can also celebrate the possibility for new exploration, and that’s what I like to think Kronos is all about.

Speaking of new exploration, your new album Tunda Songs is released today, March 10, 2015.

I was so happy to be a part of this. We premiered Derek Charke’s piece on Saturday night [at Carnegie Hall]. Tundra Songs is a work that was written for us […]. It’s a continuing relationship. Basically everything we’re doing these days is something that I hope we can continue as long as possible. For example, Terry Riley… Actually, I am happy to announce today, so you’re the first to hear about it. Kronos Presents the Terry Riley Festival will celebrate 80 years of Terry Riley in San Francisco this June. At the moment, we’re continuing our planning to celebrate not only what Terry has brought to Kronos but also to music.

What music will you be sharing with us in the studio later this week on Impromptu, and how did you select the repertoire?

We wanted to do something that was going to jump out of people’s car speakers and their home radios and wherever it is they hear music. We thought we would open with Michael Daugherty’s piece Elvis Everywhere. I think Elvis Everywhere celebrates the world-wide phenomenon of Elvis and the affect that Elvis has had on American culture. Then, we move on to music by one of America’s greatest musicians, and there are five extant recordings of her work, her name is Geeshie Wiley and we’re playing Last King Words, recorded initially about 1930, and which is to me just one of the iconic pieces of American music. From there we’re going to move to music by Omar Souleyman who is a great Syrian singer and wedding musician. He plays the coolest weddings, you should check the out on YouTube! We’re playing his song called I’ll Prevent the Hunters from Hunting You. From there we’re going to play one of our favorite songs called Tusen Tankar or A Thousand Thoughts, and it’s one of the most beautiful songs I have ever encountered. It’s from Sweden. Then we’ll play music by Rahul Dev Burman the great Bollywood film composer. I think of him as the Schubert of Bollywood music. Schubert on one hand Stravinsky on the other. The colors are unparalleled, it’s just amazing. We did an album of his music with his widow who is the most recorded artist in history and her name is Asha Bhosle. That was a power couple if there ever was one! Then we’ll play music by Tanburi Cemil Bey, the Ottoman composer from Turkey – his Evic Taksim which was recorded just before World War I, it’s just astonishing music. Then we’re going to end the set with a Clint Manesell piece that we’ve never played on the radio. I don’t know if it’s ever been played on the radio. We’ve never done it live and I don’t know if it’s ever been played, it’s called Death is the Road to Awe from The Fountain. It should be an action packed hour of music and we’re looking forward to it very much.

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