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Kronos Quartet: Behind The Scenes And Out Of Doors

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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Kronos Quartet Live At The Lincoln Center Out Of Doors Festival

Hear world premiere performances by the Kronos Quartet and collaborators — members of Antibalas, tUnE-yArDs and Iron and Wine as well as stars from the Fela Kuti musical Fela! — live at Lincoln Center's Out of Doors Festival. And rehearsal photos show new music and old instruments coming together.

Violist Hank Dutt, who joined Kronos in 1977, plays alongside the quartet's newest member, Sunny Jungin Yang, who came onboard in June.

Violist Hank Dutt, who joined Kronos in 1977, plays alongside the quartet's newest member, Sunny Jungin Yang, who came onboard in June.

Composer Magda Giannikou works out a rhythm with Kronos cellist Sunny Jungin Yang.

Composer Magda Giannikou works out a rhythm with Kronos cellist Sunny Jungin Yang.

Part of the interior of Giannikou's laterna — an old Greek instrument that had faded out of use by World War II. It's something akin to an upright player piano, with thousands of little nails pinned into a small cylinder in its base. Each nail activates the strike of a string, creating one played note.

Part of the interior of Giannikou's laterna — an old Greek instrument that had faded out of use by World War II. It's something akin to an upright player piano, with thousands of little nails pinned into a small cylinder in its base. Each nail activates the strike of a string, creating one played note.

Working collaborations with living composers mean edits to the scores — even mid-rehearsal — as performers figure out what works and what might need further revision or clarification.

Working collaborations with living composers mean edits to the scores — even mid-rehearsal — as performers figure out what works and what might need further revision or clarification.

Part of the battery of percussion used in Giannikou's work is a flight of house keys.

Part of the battery of percussion used in Giannikou's work is a flight of house keys.

Now based in New York, Giannikou is originally from Athens. She was introduced to Kronos by another of the quartet's longtime collaborators, composer Osvaldo Golijov, who was one of her mentors at the Sundance Film Music program. Giannikou and Kronos spent several years discussing their collaboration before the world premiere of her Strophe in Antistrophe this Friday.

Now based in New York, Giannikou is originally from Athens. She was introduced to Kronos by another of the quartet's longtime collaborators, composer Osvaldo Golijov, who was one of her mentors at the Sundance Film Music program. Giannikou and Kronos spent several years discussing their collaboration before the world premiere of her Strophe in Antistrophe this Friday.

The artisan who made Giannikou's instrument also makes the cylinders for her music.

The artisan who made Giannikou's instrument also makes the cylinders for her music.

David Harrington, the Kronos Quartet's first violinist, founded the group 40 years ago. Second violinist John Sherba has been part of the foursome since 1978.

David Harrington, the Kronos Quartet's first violinist, founded the group 40 years ago. Second violinist John Sherba has been part of the foursome since 1978.

Vocalists Abena Koomson and Sahr Ngaujah — who starred in the off-Broadway and Broadway productions of FELA!, the musical based on the life of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti — join Kronos to rehearse the iconic Fela song

Vocalists Abena Koomson and Sahr Ngaujah — who starred in the off-Broadway and Broadway productions of FELA!, the musical based on the life of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti — join Kronos to rehearse the iconic Fela song "Sorrow, Tears and Blood."

Red Hot + Fela! musical director Stuart Bogie, Kronos production director Laurence Neff and Harrington confer over details.

Red Hot + Fela! musical director Stuart Bogie, Kronos production director Laurence Neff and Harrington confer over details.

The Kronos Quartet's David Harrington, John Sherba and Hank Dutt in rehearsal at Carroll Studios in New York Tuesday.

The Kronos Quartet's David Harrington, John Sherba and Hank Dutt in rehearsal at Carroll Studios in New York Tuesday.

Kronos onstage at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, performing the suite from the AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague.

Kronos onstage at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, performing the suite from the AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague. Kevin Yatarola

Fela Kuti's

Fela Kuti's "Sorrow, Tears and Blood" performed by the Kronos Quartet and the vibrant Abena Koomson and Sahr Ngaujah. Kevin Yatarola

The Kronos Quartet is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an extended residency at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival this week.

The Kronos Quartet is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an extended residency at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival this week. Kevin Yatarola

Fela Kuti's

Fela Kuti's "Sorrow, Tears and Blood" performed by the Kronos Quartet and the vibrant Abena Koomson and Sahr Ngaujah. Kevin Yatarola

PROGRAM:

Kronos Quartet & Superhuman Happiness: Suite from How to Survive a Plague (world premiere)

Kronos Quartet, Abena Koomson & Sahr Ngaujah: Fela Kuti, "Sorrow, Tears and Blood"


Recently, I've been reading a lot about hyperpolyglots: freakishly talented, assiduously hardworking and wonderfully curious individuals who, usually by choice rather than because of geographic, cultural or familial circumstances, learn a whole bunch of languages — a dozen, 37 or 60 of them — just for the sheer joy of communication.

I think those linguistic superstars who can switch tongues with such ease and pleasure have musical kin in the Kronos Quartet. Founded 40 years ago by first violinist David Harrington, the quartet's current lineup also includes longtime second violinist John Sherba and violist Hank Dutt, who both became Kronos members in the late 1970s, along with cellist Sunny Jungin Yang, who just joined the group in June. Over the course of about 40 studio albums — an average of one per year — Kronos has trekked musical and physical terrain all over the globe, from world premieres of music by Steve Reich and Terry Riley to collaborations with artists from Nubian oud virtuoso Hamza El Din to Canadian Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. (I wrote the liner notes for one of their internationally focused albums, 2009's Floodplain.)

Just as with hyperpolyglots, Kronos switches musical idioms as the result of intense work and dedication. So as the group geared up for a five-day residency at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival — encompassing 28 concerts and events, 12 premieres, and seven collaborations between Kronos and other artists — photographer Polina V. Yamshchikov and I visited Kronos Tuesday at some of the rehearsals leading up to these performances.

Part of the fascination lay in watching the four slip in and out of styles as easily as other people would change coats. The first rehearsal we attended was with Greek composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer Magda Giannikou, whose Strophe in Antistrophe veers between regions as diverse as Brazil and Asia Minor and which will receive its world premiere Friday evening.

After a brief break at rehearsal, it was time to switch gears entirely for a session celebrating the music and legacy of Afrobeat visionary Fela Kuti in advance of last night's world premiere of the Red Hot + FELA LIVE! project. Kronos worked through Fela's "Sorrow, Tears and Blood" — an iconic, searing indictment of African military regimes of the 1970s — with singers Sahr Ngaujah and Abena Koomson, two stars of the musical Fela!

Afrobeat isn't Kronos' native tongue, and there was less interaction between the quartet and Ngaujah and Koomson during this rehearsal than in the previous session we'd attended with Giannikou, but the six collectively found their way into the music's groove, helped along by Red Hot + FELA LIVE!'s musical director, Stuart Bogie.

Kronos found a more easeful pairing with the band Superhuman Happiness (comprised of members of Antibalas, tUnE-yArDs and Iron and Wine) in a suite of music from the Academy Award-nominated AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague, whose music was written by Bogie, fellow Superhuman Happiness member Luke O'Malley and late composer and cellist Arthur Russell. The suite's eerie textures and snaking melodies suited this set of collaborators beautifully, as you can hear from the performance itself, recorded live Wednesday night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

With special thanks to the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival for providing the audio of last night's live performance.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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