1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. Definition
3. Black Angels
4. Ambassadors
5. Breaking down barriers
6. Extraordinary collaborations
7. The Kronos Performing Arts Association
2011 Laureate


The Polar Music Prize 2011 is being awarded to American string quartet Kronos Quartet. For almost 40 years, the Kronos Quartet has been revolutionizing the potential of the string quartet genre when it comes to both style and content. The same type of chamber music ensemble – two violins, a viola and a cello – for which Mozart and Beethoven wrote can also be used to comment on international politics, interpret avant-garde rock and incorporate music from every corner of the world.


H.R.H. Prince Daniel, Jeffrey Zeigler, H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf, Patti Smith, David Harrington, H.M. Queen Silvia, Hank Dutt, John Sherba & H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria

Stockholm, August 2011

The 20th Polar Music Prize Ceremony was held at Konserthuset Stockholm in the month of August. The evening continued with a banquet in Vinterträdgården at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel.

HM King Carl XVI Gustaf presented the Prize to the two Laureates Kronos Quartet and Patti Smith.

The citation for Kronos Quartet was read by Chinese pipa player Wu Man, and the citation for Patti Smith was read by world famous artist Henning Mankell.

Special arrangements of the Laureates’ music was performed by Kungliga Filharmonikerna and conductor Hans Ek, together with a sparkling array of artists honoured the Laureates by performing their music both at the ceremony and banquet.

The event was broadcast live on Swedish national television (TV4).

The Stenhammar Quartet on performing at the prize ceremony

Prize artwork by Karin Mamma Andersson and Jockum Nordström

Chinese pipa player Wu Man reading the citation for Kronos Quartet

I've always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life. To tell the story with grace and humor and depth. And to tell the whole story, if possible.

David Harrington, founder Kronos Quartet


String Quartet: A first violinist, second violinist, violist, and cellist forming a group for the performance of string quartets and similar music. (Definition from
For more than 30 years, the Kronos Quartet has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to expanding the range and context of the string quartet.

Kronos' first album White Man Sleeps, 1987 (Source: © Nonesuch Records)

Black Angels

In 1973, David Harrington was inspired to form Kronos after hearing George Crumb’s Black Angels, a highly unorthodox, Vietnam War-inspired work featuring bowed water glasses, spoken word passages, and electronic effects.

George Crumb (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

The complete Black Angels works

Ambassadors of contemporary chamber music

Kronos Quartet has always strived to redefine the boundaries of the classic string quartet. Indeed, their artwork often incorporates the aesthetics of a modern pop band, removing preconceptions of what exactly the listener is to expect.

Music for 4 fences at the Sydney Opera house (Source: © Kronos Quartet)

Fragile - a collaboration with Eiko & Koma (Source: Anna Lee Campbell)

Breaking down barriers

Kronos Quartet has become the foremost ambassador of contemporary chamber music, constantly exploring new musical connections and breaking down barriers between musical genres, between the musician and the instrument and between musicians and audiences.

A Chinese home featuring Wu Man, exploring China's evolving identity through a variety of works ranging from folk tunes to electronic music.

Chinese home featuring Wu Man on stage (Source: Kronos Quartet)

Sun Rings performance  (Source: © Kronos Quartet)

Extraordinary collaborations

One of the quartet’s most frequent composer-collaborators is Terry Riley, whose work with Kronos includes the early Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector, Cadenza on the Night Plain, Salome Dances for Peace and the project Sun Rings from 2002. Sun Rings, a multimedia, NASA-commissioned ode to the earth and its people, features celestial sounds and images from space recorded by Voyager and Galileo.

Polar Music Prize Laureate Steve Reich, whose Kronos-recorded Different Trains earned a Grammy for the composer

Terry Riley, the "father of minimalism," at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA ,1985. (Source: Wikimedia)

Inspiration and collaborations

The Kronos Performing Arts Association

The Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA) is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco. The mission of Kronos is to continually re-imagine the string quartet experience. Kronos fulfills its mission through commissioning, performing, presenting, recording and publishing contemporary music, and collaborating with, mentoring and encouraging other artists. Kronos/KPAA performances often include educational activities in conjunction with the San Francisco Bay Area home season and touring engagements in both rural communities as well as large urban centers. KPAA continually strives to reach, challenge, and expand audiences that rarely have the opportunity to attend performances of contemporary music.

A Chinese Home on stage (Source: Christina Johnson, © Kronos Quartet)

David Harrington rehearsing (Source: Christina Johnson, © Kronos Quartet)

Under 30 project

The Kronos: Under 30 Project was created in 2003 to support the creation of new work by young artists, and to help Kronos cultivate stronger connections and develop lasting artistic relationships with the next creative generation. In each round of the program, musicians are asked to submit a variety of works, regardless of instrumentation, to introduce Kronos to the music that some of the youngest members of the musical community are creating. The members of Kronos select one musician to commission to write a new work for Kronos. The selected composer joins Kronos on tour for initial meetings, and then joins Kronos for a residency in San Francisco to prepare the new piece.

Kronos and Under 30/#4 composer Aviya Kopelman, 2012 (Source: © Kronos Quartet)

Three of four 2012's selected composers (from left to right); Under 30/#3 Dan Visconti, Under 30/#1 Alexandra Dubois, Under 30/#2 Felipe Pérez Santiago. (Source: © Kronos Quartet)

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2012.

All pictures from the ceremony and the banquet by Patrik Österberg, © Polar Music Prize.

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