Classical/Experimental Quartet

The group was formed 1973 in San Francisco. Although all the members are classically trained musicians, the quartet quickly abandoned the form and music of their more traditional counterparts in favor of renditions of popular music including Rock, Jazz and World Music. Later, after success, they were able to commission new works written specifically for them by Philip Glass and John Zorn. Noted for blurring the line between Classical and popular music and their enthusiastic performances.

As a side note, the Kronos Quartet did an amazing job with the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream which is a great movie and book. The soundtrack is hauntingly arranged with moments that elicit supreme sorrow, madness, and joy. The major theme of the soundtrack is a beautiful solo violin aria that seems to linger on top of a melodic cello/ piano base. The best example of this is perhaps track 32 of the soundtrack, though track 1 spices it up with a bit of a techno mix. This music is ideal for listening to either loudly or softly, and if you have seen the movie or read the book, it can even have an emotional affect. I feel that is the highest tribute to which a movie soundtrack can hope to attain. If when I am listening, I feel angry, happy, disoriented or heartbroken, I know that the music has fulfilled its purpose.

Kronos Quartet is a string quartet ensemble consisting of:

Their repertoire consists primarily of contemporary music, with a heavy dose of early music. Some people might describe this as "classical music", which would be misleading; I've never heard them perform any classical or romantic string quartets -- you know, stuff by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, etc. In other words, they are not the Emerson String Quartet, with which they seem to have only Shostakovich in common. However, if you're looking for music by Steve Reich, John Adams, Terry Riley, Philip Glass; Alfred Schnittke; Morton Feldman; Alban Berg, Anton Webern; etc., chances are that Kronos have performed or recorded their music, or even that the music was specifically written for Kronos. They've also dabbled a bit in Jazz (not to their credit, in my opinion), playing compositions by Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk and Ornette Coleman. And then there is the occasional Jimi Hendrix, John Lurie, John Zorn etc.

Kronos spend most of their time touring the globe, giving live performances. In other words, they are not Glenn Gould (apart from the obvious facts that they play different instruments, there's four of them, and they aren't dead). At the same time they manage to record and release more than one CD per year on average. "Winter Was Hard" might be a good CD to "get started", if you're not looking for anything specific.

So what's so special about them? First of all, they play a lot of music that you won't be able to hear anyone else play. Or that wouldn't even exist without them. Second, they are able to play a lot of technically very challenging music. Some of the deliberately repetitive minimalist music they play requires an industrial strength, high endurance string quartet (sometimes even two or three). For example, I didn't believe that it would possible to perform Steve Reich's "Different Trains" live, until I witnessed Kronos pulling it off (tricky, because it calls for two string quartets, so in a live performance there is a virtual second unit, namely Kronos playing on tape, i.e., they are playing with themselves). Finally (ergo?), they can be a very passionate bunch. Just listen to their recording of the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 on their album "Black Angels".

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