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  • Writer's pictureladiesvoices

Kronos Quartet, June 15, 2024

I saw a concert by/film about the Kronos Quartet at Alice Tully Hall on June 15. The performance was called *A Thousand Thoughts* - - it was a pairing of a live performance the string quartet and a live documentary by Sam Green. I didn't quite understand how the film was "live" but after twenty years of going to performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I've learned that I don't need to understand everything.


This was the last New York performance by violinist John Sherba and violist Hannful phrase rk Dust, who both joined the group in 1978. They were both retiring from the quartet the following week. The other players, for the record, are David Harrington (violin) and Paul Wiancko (cello).


Sam Green introduced the performance and sometimes gave a live narration for his film. The film was mostly a guided tour through the history of the quartet - - touching, funny, inspiring, and charming. The quartet sometimes played music to accompany the film, sometimes they played with no film in the background. The most memorable example of that was a piece by John Zorn called "Meditation." It started with one of the members playing a high, quiet note. The other three members, one at a time and I imagine at precisely notated moments, sliced at the air with their bows. It didn't make much sound, a barely audible "whoosh," but the gesture was distinctive. Then another player took over the same note, giving the first player a chance to slice at the air with his bow. It went like that over the course of the piece, with the single note being handed from player to player with no discernible (to me) change in sound and the other players slicing at the air. It was fascinating and maybe a little unsettling.


The high point of the performance was a solo moment by violist Hank Dutt. The film showed Terry Riley talking about the pieces he wrote for Kronos and the players talking about how he wanted them play without vibrato. Dutt, in the film, explained that you develop and hone your vibrato all through your formative years, it's part of what makes your sound unique. It was a challenge to play the way Riley wanted him to play, with no vibrato and what's known as "bow expression." Sam Green stopped the film and said, "Hank, I think there are people in the audience who don't know what vibrato and bow expression are. Could you please give us a demonstration?" Dutt played a shortish, mournful tune using vibrato. It was warm, rich, and direct. He then played the same tune using no vibrato and an inventive, high expressive use of the bow. It was haunting as hell and brought tears to my eyes. I'd never heard anything like it.


There was a great sense of occasion in the performance, with Dutt and Sherba playing one of their last concerts with the quartet. The film came to an end and Green said that he thought the audience would enjoy one last piece played by the quartet. I immediately thought, "What will they play? Bartók, Glass, Riley, Reich? Or someone brand new, someone I'd never heard of before? No, their choice was vintage Kronos, something that many of us knew but had probably never heard played in a classical setting. It was "Orange Blossom Special" by Ervin T. Rouse, a rip-roaring number for a virtuosic fiddle player. The solos were shared by the two violinists and they were freaking fierce. Their playing walked the knife edge between precision and raw, elemental abandon. Here's a performance by them from 2022 with their cellist at the time, Sunny Yang. Would you believe this video has only had 126 views...?




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