Sunday, February 07, 2016
Super Music Week 3: Kronos Festival 2016
The Kronos Quartet, consisting of (left to right) David Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola, and Sunny Yang on cello, have been hosting a four-day festival at the SFJAZZ Center this week, involving lots of new music and guest performers from around the world. First up on Friday evening's program was Nicole Lizee's The Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop [Fibre-Optic Flowers], a gloss on the 1960s BBC Radiophonic Workshop for electronic music. This required the musicians to not only play their string instruments but also reel-to-reel tape players, hand-held proto-arcade games, and a typewriter. Lizee was featured in a SoundBox concert last year with her psychedelic Kool-Aid Acid Test #17: Blotterberry Bursst, and this piece was equally fun and inventive.
Next up was Bubbles, a choral piece by the Serbian emigre Aleksandra Vrebalov. Dedicated to Black Mountain College, it used texts from John Cage and Robert Creeley who were professors there, sung beautifully by the San Francisco Girls Chorus with the incomparable Andy Meyerson above adding to the mix on vibraphone.
The following piece featuring the SF Girls Chorus was Sound, Only Sound Remains, with a recorded soundtrack of what appeared to be an Armenian folk song surrounded by the live young female voices. It was exquisite.
The composer was Iranian emigre Sahba Aminikia, who is much better looking in person than in the crappy photo above. In the program notes, he explains: "Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, women have not been allowed to sing publicly, according to the Islamic code...Sound, Only Sound Remains was produced following my announcement on Facebook inviting Iranian female singers to collaborate with me...Numerous sound clips, mostly recorded on handheld devices, were sent...and these breathtaking and sensational audio clips from across the oceans formed the opening and ending of the piece." In the middle was a song by 1930s Armenian-Iranian singer Loreta Hairapetian, sung by Ooldouz Pouri and Mina Momeni in Iran.
The final piece on the first half of the generous program was All Those Strings! by Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist above, commissioned by Kronos so they could collaborate with Ritva Koistinen below, who plays the kantele, a Finnish version of the zither which has an otherworldly, celestial sound.
The three-movement piece was spare and granular, what I tend to think of as insect music, which seems to be in fashion right now. At first it felt deadly dull, and the many kids in the audience who had been brought to see their sisters perform earlier in the evening, were squirming all over their seats. By the final movement, my brain had somehow recalibrated, and the piece became fascinating, rewarding a deep listen.
After intermission, there was a world premiere of a piece that also involved prerecorded folk songs with a live string quartet. Written by the 25-year-old Albert Behar above, Lost Wax is a five-movement work playing with the intersection between Bartok's string quartets and the hundreds of folk song recordings Bartok made in Hungarian villages at the start of the 20th century. It was a lively, tuneful and substantial work which I'd like to hear again.
The final piece was a suite arranged from four songs by Bollywood composer Rahul Dev Burman, complete with a recorded tabla click track among other instruments, that allowed each of the Kronos members a solo turn. Pictured above is the most recent Kronos cellist, Sunny Yang. The other three members of the Kronos are the original musicians who formed the worldwide touring group in the 1970s.
I have only seen them three times over the years because I am not a big fan of amplified classical music, but it is easy to see why they are so popular, with their adventurousness and musical cross-over expertise. The SFJAZZ Center is a perfect venue for them. The acoustics are way too dry for unamplified, acoustic music to resonate, but the sound system is incredible and it was well used all evening long.