Forty years ago this month, violinist David Harrington, born and raised in Seattle, assembled three fellow string players with an interest in experimental fare and presented the first concert of Kronos Quartet at North Seattle Community College.
Nine people attended the show — five of them Harrington’s relatives.
This Saturday at the Neptune Theatre, Kronos will play a program (presumably to a much larger crowd) that reaffirms its early Seattle roots and establishes some new Seattle connections with collaborations involving the Degenerate Art Ensemble (DAE) and composer Jherek Bischoff.
In a phone interview last week, Harrington could not have sounded more jazzed about this 40th-anniversary show. He also dwelt fondly on Kronos’ early days and what first drew him to quartet playing and new music in the first place.
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Saturday’s program spans the breadth of the quartet’s career. Seattle composer Ken Benshoof’s bluesy “Traveling Music” was the first piece ever commissioned by Kronos, while Joshua Kohl’s “Predator Songstress: Warrior,” performed by DAE, Kronos and six singers, will be a world premiere.
Other items on the agenda are more daunting.
Krzysztof Penderecki’s groundbreaking “Quartetto per archi” from 1960, Harrington says, is “almost like an encyclopedia of possibilities for bowed string instruments.”
John Oswald’s “Spectre,” from Kronos’ 1993 CD “Short Stories,” is one of Kronos’ blends of live performance with prerecorded overdubs. At its sonic climax, Harrington says, it features “over a thousand of us going on at the same time.”
An unexpected name on the program is Bryce Dessner, guitarist with The National. Like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Dessner has made a career as a classical composer outside the band. His spooky, minimalist “Tenebre” is a highlight of Kronos’ latest CD, “Aheym: Kronos Quartet Plays Music by Bryce Dessner.”
Another unlikely item on Saturday’s program is the string-quartet transcription of the Prelude from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.” It got its start when Harrington’s wife went to see Lars von Trier’s Wagner-heavy “Melancholia” three times while he was away on tour. He suggested a fourth viewing.
“I had clearly heard the Prelude to ‘Tristan und Isolde’ before. But somehow I really heard it in a new way in that film,” he says. Determined to have Kronos play it, he commissioned longtime collaborator Aleksandra Vrebalov to arrange it for four string players.
As for joining forces with DAE in “Predator Songstress: Warrior,” featuring choreography by dancer Haruko Nishimura, Harrington states, “If Kronos was still living in Seattle, there’s no question but that we would be working with the Degenerate Art Ensemble. … To celebrate the 40th year of our group, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to do something with their group.”
Kronos has a 40th-anniversary six-CD boxed set in the works, due out early next year, comprising five reissues and a new CD of rare or previously unreleased material.
“I feel there’s never been as much energy as there is right now in the group,” Harrington wraps up. “It’s really wonderful. I’m very happy.”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org