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.

Chapter: Definition


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.

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
Chapter: Black Angels

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 (Photo: Sabine Matthes, from the C. F. Peters Corporation via Wikimedia Commons.)
The complete Black Angels works (View Playlist on Spotify)
Chapter: Ambassadors

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.

Kronos Quartet: Music for 4 fences at the Sydney Opera house
Music for 4 fences at the Sydney Opera house (Photo: © Kronos Quartet, photo Christina Johnson)
Kronos' first album White Man Sleeps, 1987 (Photo: © Nonesuch Records)
Album cover for Winter Was Hard, 1989 (Photo: © Nonesuch Records)
The Black Angels album by Kronos Quartet, 1990 (Photo: © Nonesuch Records)
Chapter: Breaking down barriers

Breaking down barriers

Fragile - a collaboration with Eiko & Koma (Photo: © Photo by Anna Lee Campbell, all rights reserved)

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.
A Chinese home featuring Wu Man on stage (Photo: Kronos Quartet)
Chapter: Extraordinary collaborations

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.

Kronos-SunRingSun Rings performance © Kronos Quartet

Polar Music Prize Laureate Steve Reich, whose Kronos-recorded Different Trains earned a Grammy for the composer (Photo: Wonge Bergmann)
Terry Riley at Great American Music Hall San Francisco CA 1985
Terry Riley, the "father of minimalism," at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA ,1985. (Photo: Brian McMillen/Wikimedia)
Voyager 1. NASA’s images of deep space, eruptions of solar energy, starscapes and planetary close-ups create an astounding video backdrop for Terry Riley’s highly acclaimed Sun Rings. (Photo: NASA/Public Domain)
Inspiration and collaborations (View Playlist on Spotify)
Chapter: Kronos performing arts association

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.

Downtown San Francisco looking across the rooftops to the modern architecture and skyscrapers of the central CBD on the skyline.
San Francisco, home of the Kronos Performing Arts Association (Photo:
Kronos Quartet - A Chinese Home on stage
A Chinese Home on stage (Photo: Christina Johnson, © Kronos Quartet)
David Harrington rehearsing
David Harrington rehearsing (Photo: Christina Johnson, © Kronos Quartet)
Rehearsals with Homayun Sakhi Trio, and Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ for the BT River of Music august 2012
Rehearsals with Homayun Sakhi Trio, and Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ for the BT River of Music august 2012 (Photo: 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 (Photo: © 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. (Photo: © Kronos Quartet)
Chapter: The Polar Music Prize
Chinese pipa player Wu Man reading the citation for Kronos Quartet

Stockholm, August 2011

Prize artwork by Karin Mamma Andersson and Jockum Nordström
Interview Kronos Quartet on receiving the Polar Music Prize
Programme (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
The Stenhammar Quartet on performing at the prize ceremony
The Kronos Quartet and Patti Smith at Polar Music Talks in Stockholm 2011
The Kronos Quartet and Patti Smith in Stockholm 2011 (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Kronos Quartet receiving the Polar Music Prize from the Swedish King
David Harrington receiving the prize from HM The King of Sweden (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Interview with Kronos Quartet and Patti Smith at the Polar Music Talks