I never expect less than the finest performances from the the Kronos Quartet. The Quartet presented yet another outstanding demonstration of their virtuosity at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland last night.
The program featured the East Coast Premiere of String Quartet No. 6 by Philip Glass. The piece was co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in celebration of the Kronos Quartet’s 40th anniversary. Overall, it was an challenging piece for me. The contrapunctal intricacy during all three movements added life to thick harmonies that only seemed to complicate matters.I found this to be particularly evident in the third movement.
Another novelty of the performance was the inclusion of the Quartet’s new cellist, Sunny Yang. The addition of any new artist to a quartet fundamentally changes its overall sound. Ms. Yang demonstrated her technical and artistic skills to be equal to those of other members. She also brought a fresh, more open feeling to the cello parts.
The program featured six other pieces by 20th century composers young and old. The youngest composer, Yuri Boguina, at the ripe old age of 22, was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet to write a piece. Although I don’t feel that On the Wings of Pegasus lived up to its promise of illustrating “music as a pulsating paint on white canvas of the beautiful fleeting metamorphosis of the human soul,” it did showcase the talent of both composer and players.The interesting backstory of this piece’s commission is that one of Boguina’s professors at the Julliard School of Music proclaimed his composing as “trash.” What better reason for Kronos, the champion of many new composers, to commission this piece, and to prove his professor wrong.
The underlying intent of most compositions were beautifully illustrated. The first, Specter, by John Oswald, used seemingly endless clips of prior performances of Kronos, along with their live playing last night to bring forth the sound of 1001 artists performing at once. Unfortunately, during its apex, the noise issuing from the loudspeakers was quite overwhelming.
Two of my favorites during the regular performance were Last Kind Words arranged by Jacob Garchick from the original written by Geeshie Wiley in the early 20th Century and On the Movement of the Tongue by Pamela Z. Last Kind Words was described as representative of “the moment when black secular music was coalescing into blues.” The composition started with jaunty plucking of violin, viola,and cello. When the first violin came in with a bluesy melody line, the Quartet produced genuine foot-tapping music.
On the Movement of the Tongue’s was based on the composer’s interest in accents in English from different regions and countries. Pamela Z selected phonemes, words, phrases, and complete sentences that were sonically or musically interesting. The voices spoke “born, home, rain, coffee, I don’t have an accent, mother, home, pie,” and others. During the segment on rain, the score called for plucking strings that reflected the sound of drops of rain hitting the ground. The members of the quartet clearly enjoyed Tongue.
The two encores, Powerhouse by Raymond Scott and a piece of ‘Columbian Cowboy Music’ followed in this playful mode.
The other quartets presented were Sim Shalom arranged by Judith Berkson from the original by Cantor Alter Yechiel Karniol and Nicole Lizee’s Hymnals. Though the titles imply similarity, the quartets were very different and each outstanding in its own right.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes including intermission and two encores.
The longstanding relationship between The Kronos Quartet and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has led to an exciting project. The Quartet is mentoring three composition students at University of Maryland and will present their quartets in concert on February 20th, 2014 at 7 pm at the Clarice Center.
On February 22, 2014, the quartet will perform at the Center with the Trio Da Kali.
Kronos Quartet’s website.