Category: Kronos Quartet (5)
During the first weekend of February, the Alexander Kasser Theater was testing ground for two acts of musical fusion. On Saturday, February 6th and Sunday, February 7th, both Miguel Zenón’s band and Kronos Quartet brought similar recipes to the table—mixing established forms with fresh musical styles. Or, for Kronos, a diversity of styles—and the perils of amplifying a bastion of acoustic beauty, but we’ll get to that.
Miguel Zenón’s path as an instrumentalist runs deep, with stints in the Mingus Big Band and with bass maven Charlie Haden. He’s an alto player possessed with astounding technique and quicksilver inventiveness. Breathtaking runs were limber at Saturday night’s performance, not agitated. Then in a late solo he briefly burnished his line with a bending Arabian tonality—intriguing, not obtrusive, like a deft, magical tweak.
…hold me, neighbor, in this storm… (2007)
By Aleksandra Vrebalov (b. 1970)
Aleksandra Vrebalov, a native of the former Yugoslavia, left Serbia in 1995 and continued her education in the United States. About “…hold me, neighbor, in this storm…,” she writes:
“The Balkans, with its multitude of cultural and religious identities, has had a troubled history of ethnic intolerance. For my generation of Tito’s pioneers and children of Communists, growing up in the former Yugoslavia meant learning about and carrying in our minds the battles and numberless ethnic and religious conflicts dating back half a millennium, and honoring ancestors who died in them. By then, that distant history had merged with the nearer past, so those we remember from World War II are our grandparents. Their stories we heard firsthand. After several devastating ethnic wars in the 1990s, we entered a new century, this time each of us knowing in person someone who perished. As I write this in November 2007, on YouTube a new generation of Albanians and Serbs post their war songs, bracing for another conflict, claiming their separate entitlements to the land and history, rather than a different kind of future, together.
“Strangely, the cultural and religious differences that led to enmity in everyday life produced—after centuries of turbulently living together—most incredible fusions in music. It is almost as if what we weren’t able to achieve through words and deeds—to fuse, and mix, and become something better and richer together—our music so famously accomplished instead.
By Café Tacuba
Arranged by Osvaldo Golijov (b.1960)
Recorded performance by Alejandro Flores and Café Tacuba
December 12 is celebrated throughout Mexico as the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country’s patron saint. In 1531, just a decade after the Spanish Conquest, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous Mexican named Juan Diego on the hill of Tepayac, outside Mexico City. Associated with her appearance was a series of miracles, including the sudden curing of a dying man, unnaturally fragrant flowers that appeared to be painted but then became real, and finally the imprint on Juan Diego’s cloak of the Virgin Mary. This piece, written by Café Tacuba in collaboration with composer Osvaldo Golijov, was conceived as a collection of different moments and environments experienced during the course of the Day of the Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The five-part sonic portrait of contemporary Mexico weaves together not only the sounds of a rock band and a string quartet, but also traditional Mexican instruments and street sounds. The scenes range from the mariachi bands of Plaza Garibaldi, to the loud whistle from the cart of a camote (yam) vendor, to the amazing Voladores de Papantla, a Veracruz ritual where four men, accompanied by flutes and drums, leap from a pole while attached to ropes that slowly unwind. The piece ends with the fire works and bells of Mexico City’s Zócalo on Independence Day.
Cat O’ Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs the Marquis de Sade) (1988)
By John Zorn (b. 1953)
Turning a self-described short attention span into a creative asset, the ever-daring composer, saxophonist, MacArthur Fellow, and New York “downtown” music czar John Zorn developed a unique approach to composition in the 1980s and early ’90s. Starting with discrete musical ideas—or “moments”—jotted down on file cards whenever inspiration struck, Zorn would create a new work by assembling the cards in a specific order. The resulting music is both endlessly surprising and relentlessly pulse quickening—an experience often compared to rapidly pushing the pre-set buttons on a car radio, or to the constantly shifting, “jump cut” imagery of modern films and music videos.
“Cat O’ Nine Tails” is a perfect example of the form. In under 15 minutes, the piece brings together 51 distinct moments, from gently plucked tones to razor-sharp dissonance, and from stately classicism to country hoedown to cartoon zaniness—with few passages daring to challenge the 10-second barrier.
Kronos Quartet comes to the Alexander Kasser Theater on Sunday afternoon as part of an exciting weekend of music. Kronos will play selections from their new recording, Floodplain, in a program that’s exclusive to New Jersey. We’re looking forward to their visit! In preparation, over the next several days, we’ll be posting notes (courtesy of Kronos management) corresponding to the pieces they’ll be playing this Sunday.
One of the pieces that I’m most excited about is “Tashweesh,” which according to its program note (more below), was written by a collective known as Ramallah Underground, specifically for Kronos, after David Harrington noticed their music on Myspace and got in touch with them. The members of Ramallah Underground identify primarily as MCs and producers, but this work for Kronos is a fervently contemporary pairing of string instrument and recorded sound. Check it out on Kronos’ Web site.
Then join us for what promises to be an extraordinary weekend!