Monday 6 February 2012

The Kronos Quartet at the Hackney Empire, 24 January 2012

Having had the pleasure of their stay in Glasgow last May, I was sorry not to make it down to London for the Kronos Quartet's Barbican residence at the end of last month. But you can't do everything. However, my mother Lucy provides this guest review.

It’s thanks to Where's Runnicles that I discovered the Kronos, first online, then in a recording, and finally yesterday in the flesh, which exceeded all expectations. I think it was the most exciting concert I’ve been to in a long time, partly because all the music was new to me, partly because of the visual interest, and partly because of the sheer passion and virtuosity of their playing. There wasn’t a dud piece, although there were a couple I didn’t like so much. The whole of the second half was taken up with George Crumb’s Black angels, an intriguing mix of sound and images, starting with the four instruments hanging on nooses from the flies, swaying gently. The players contribute vocal noises and play drums as well as the quartet instruments, and part way through the lights come up on three sets of wine glasses, which they also play, producing an other worldly kind of sound. At several points in the piece, three players come together on the stage and play (unamplified) some ghostly echoes of early music – nostalgic and haunting, somehow both suggesting the roots of the music and at the same time conveying a sense of loss and sadness.

I also loved Randall Woolf’s arrangement of Thelonius Monk’s Round midnight, and the Greek song arranged by Jacob Garchik. However, the highlight for me was Terry Riley’s Another Secret eQuation, in which the quartet was joined by a choir (the excellent Trinity laban chamber choir). Riley was apparently influenced by astrophysics, and the music suggests that we are looking at the world from an immense distance. The members of the choir come on stage during the first bars of the music, making strange cries of distress, before they sing a text beginning with the words ‘We are lost and cannot find our way’. According to the programme, ‘the text combines nonsense syllables with expressions of exasperation at the state of a poorly run and messy world’, and that’s certainly the message it conveyed to me. A very moving experience.

Editor's notes:

My review of Kronos's UK premiere of their current staging of Black Angels at the 2010 Edinburgh festival.

Interestingly, when they gave the UK premiere of Terry Riley's Another Secret eQuation in Glasgow last May, I was less convinced by it.

1 comment:

Colin Z. Robertson said...

I was at the same concert. I'll offer a few of my own thoughts (written sometime after the event -- I hope my memory is reliable):

The highlight for me was certainly Michael Gordon's Exalted. It's a dark and moody piece and I found it intense and almost harrowing at the end, where it becomes a series of drones with abrupt glissando ends.

I found the first piece, Bryce Dessner's Aheym 'Homeward' rather beautiful. And the Greek song was pleasant, also.

Unlike Lucy, I was underwhelmed by Round Midnight. Admittedly, I'm not much of a fan of Thelonius Monk. But more importantly, the quartet were playing with a backing track of electronic percussion. I listen to a lot of electronic music and I found this track just rather pedestrian. I thought it detracted from the quartet's playing.

I'm with Tam on Another Secret eQuation. It doesn't seem to add up to very much. Unlike Tam, though, while I found Black Angels interesting, I have to say that it wasn't really to my tastes and didn't particularly grab me emotionally.

Overall, I found the concert to be a bit of a mixed bag, with some parts very good, and some not so good. I spoke to Lucy during the interval, and I think, roughly speaking, the parts I liked, she didn't, and vice versa.

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