Generically speaking, Contemporary Classical is a gloriously contrary
phrase that covers a multitude of bases. Few evoke the idea of
bestowing a playful gravitas on new music better than the Kronos
Quartet, the San Francisco-based string ensemble founded by violinist
David Harrington in Seattle, Washington in 1973.
Having commissioned and performed more than 750 works over the last
forty years by major composers including Arvo Part, John Adams, Steve
Reich and Terry Riley, Kronos have also worked with the likes of Bjork,
Tom Waits, David Bowie and Nelly Furtado. For their two EIF 2014
programmes, Harrington and the musicians that make up the current
Quartet of John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola) and Sunny Yang
(cello) expand the bridges between pop cultural tropes they navigate so
exquisitely even further.
One programme features a double bill of work by minimalist maestro
Philip Glass, whose String Quartet No 6 can be heard alongside Music
From The Fountain and Requiem For A Dream, two scores by former Pop
Will Eat Itself vocalist turned film composer Clint Mansell written for
films by Darren Oronovsky.
If this wasn't enticing enough, in keeping with EIF 2014's
acknowledgement of the 100th anniversary of World War One, Kronos
combine with New York-based Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and
film-maker Bill Morrison for Beyond Zero: 1914-18, a collage-like
response to the War in sound and vision.
“In U.S. History,” says Harrington, “World War One is the mother of all
of the wars of the twentieth and twenty-first century, but we still
don't know much about it here. We have no real visual sense to it, and
until I saw Bill's film, I had no visual sense of its horror either.”
Having received its world premiere in April this year following a two
year gestation, Beyond Zero: 1914-18 features a prelude of works drawn
from the era.
“The idea is to project ourselves back into history,” says Harrington.
“We're attempting to enter the sound world of the time as if the Kronos
Quartet had been active a hundred years ago.”
Of Mansell's work, Harrington says that “It's astonishing how his music
has such richness and vibrancy. What a talent.”
For the Glass piece, Harrington points out that “For our fortieth year
he's written his most challenging string quartet yet. I feel like I've
spent my entire life trying to play a piece like this. It's great to
see one of our senior composers just going for it.”
Beyond Zero: 1914-18, Festival Theatre, Monday 18 August 8pm; Kronos
Quartet, Usher Hall, Tuesday 19 August 8pm
Edinburgh International Festival magazine, August 2014