For more than 30 years, the Kronos Quartet—David Harrington, John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola) and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello)—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. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 45 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most eclectic composers and performers, and commissioning more than 700 works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos’ work has also garnered numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
Kronos’ adventurous approach dates back to the ensemble’s origins. 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. Kronos then began building a compellingly diverse repertoire for string quartet, performing and recording works by 20th-century masters (Bartók, Shostakovich, Webern), contemporary composers (Aleksandra Vrebalov, John Adams, Alfred Schnittke), jazz legends (Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk), and artists from even farther afield (rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, Azeri vocalist Alim Qasimov, avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn).
Integral to Kronos’ work is a series of long-running, in-depth collaborations with many of the world’s foremost composers. One of the quartet’s most frequent composer-collaborators is “Father of Minimalism” Terry Riley, whose work with Kronos includes the early Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector; Cadenza on the Night Plain and Salome Dances for Peace; 2002′s Sun Rings, a multimedia, NASA-commissioned ode to the earth and its people, featuring celestial sounds and images from space; and The Cusp of Magic, commissioned in honor of Riley’s 70th birthday celebrations in 2005 and recorded and released in 2008.
Kronos commissioned and recorded the three string quartets of Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, with whom the group has been working for more than 20 years. The quartet has also collaborated extensively with composers such as Philip Glass, recording his complete string quartets and scores to films like Mishima and Dracula (a restored edition of the Bela Lugosi classic); Azerbaijan’s Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, whose works are featured on the full-length 2005 release Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh; Steve Reich, whose Kronos-recorded Different Trains earned a Grammy; Argentina’s Osvaldo Golijov, whose work with Kronos includes both compositions and extensive arrangements for albums like Kronos Caravan and Nuevo; and many more.
In addition to composers, Kronos counts numerous artists from around the world among its collaborators, including the Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man; legendary Bollywood “playback singer” Asha Bhosle, featured on Kronos’ Grammy-nominated CD, You’ve Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman’s Bollywood; Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq; Mexican rockers Café Tacuba; genre defying sound artist and instrument builder Walter Kitundu; the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks; renowned American soprano Dawn Upshaw; and the unbridled British cabaret trio, the Tiger Lillies. Kronos has performed live with the likes of icons Allen Ginsberg, Zakir Hussain, Modern Jazz Quartet, Tom Waits, David Barsamian, Howard Zinn, Betty Carter, and David Bowie, and has appeared on recordings by such diverse talents as Nine Inch Nails, Amon Tobin, Dan Zanes, DJ Spooky, Dave Matthews, Nelly Furtado, Rokia Traoré, Joan Armatrading and Don Walser.
Kronos’ music has also featured prominently in other media, including film (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, 21 Grams, Heat, True Stories) and dance, with noted choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, and Eiko & Koma setting pieces to Kronos’ music.
The Quartet spends five months of each year on tour, appearing in concert halls, clubs, and festivals around the world including BAM Next Wave Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, WOMAD, UCLA’s Royce Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Shanghai Concert Hall and the Sydney Opera House. Kronos is equally prolific and wide-ranging on disc. The ensemble’s expansive discography on Nonesuch Records includes collections like Pieces of Africa (1992), a showcase of African-born composers, which simultaneously topped Billboard’s Classical and World Music lists; 2000′s Kronos Caravan, whose musical “travels” span North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East; 1998′s ten-disc anthology, Kronos Quartet: 25 Years; Nuevo (2002), a Grammy- and Latin Grammy–nominated celebration of Mexican culture; and the 2003 Grammy-winner, Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite.
Kronos’ recording and performances reveal only a fraction of the group’s commitment to new music. As a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, the Kronos Performing Arts Association has commissioned hundreds of new works and arrangements for string quartet. Music publishers Boosey & Hawkes and Kronos have released sheet music for three signature works, all commissioned for Kronos, in the first volume of the Kronos Collection, a performing edition edited by Kronos. The quartet is committed to mentoring emerging professional performers, and in 2007 Kronos led its first Professional Training Workshop with four string quartets as part of the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall.
One of Kronos’ most exciting initiatives is the Kronos: Under 30 Project, a unique commissioning and composer-in-residence program for composers under 30 years old, launched in conjunction with Kronos’ own 30th birthday in 2003. By cultivating creative relationships with such emerging talents and a wealth of other artists from around the world, Kronos reaps the benefit of 30 years’ wisdom while maintaining a fresh approach to music-making inspired by a new generation of composers and performers.
For more information on Kronos Quartet, go to: www.kronosquartet.org