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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Catch a Show at This Week's Kronos Quartet Festival (You Won't Regret It)

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 2:35 PM


Kronos Quartet is one of the most fascinating, innovative, and long-standing musical groups of San Francisco. The neoclassical string group was formed in Seattle in 1973 by violinist David Harrington. When Harrington moved to San Francisco in 1978, the band stayed together, and now, 43 years later, still includes three of the four original members (Harrington, John Sherba on violin, and Hank Dutt on viola).

Most people, myself included, learn about Kronos through their collaborations with other artists and composers. They've worked with everyone from minimalist composer and keyboardist, Phillip Glass to hippy, psychedelic composer Terry Riley to Bollwyood singer Asha Bhosle. (Also worth mentioning: David Bowie, Nelly Furtado, Dave Matthews Band, and Paul McCartney.) In other words, even though Kronos is a string quartet, they're extremely versatile, experimental, and open to new things. (Which, in the world of classical music, is more than a little rare.)
Another reason for their sonic diversity is the fact that they perform songs that are written and commissioned by other people. In fact, to date, they've commissioned over 900 new pieces of music. Harrington explains that the reasoning behind this is because "there's not a budding Stravinsky or Bach or Beethoven within Kronos." As a result, he's "spent all these years trying to make sure that the most exciting and inspiring composers that [he's] hearing are writing their best stuff for [Kronos]." 

Last year, the Quartet hosted their first ever Kronos Festival in celebration of Terry Riley's 80th birthday. (If you haven't heard "A Rainbow in Curved Air," stop what you're doing and listen to it now!) They're throwing the festival again this year, this time called the Explorer Series, and it features a slew of performances from musicians around the world, including, of course, Kronos Quartet itself. Because of the international scope of the series, listeners will also be exposed to myriad instruments, like the West African balafon, the harmonium, the Finnish kantele, and the Vietnamese đàn Tranh.
As Harrington points out, the goal behind this year's festival is to bring many of the musicians that the Quartet has played with in different corners of the world back to their hometown of San Francisco. "We're touring to other cities and other countries many months of the year and we've been doing this for a long time," Harrington says. "And we haven't really played in San Francisco that much, so we decided, 'Okay, let's do it and focus our work here.'" 

Bottom line: This is not your grandfather's classical music. Trust.

Kronos Festival Explorer Series runs from Thursday, Feb. 4 to Sunday, Feb. 7, at SF Jazz Center. More info here

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Jessie Schiewe


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