Let it be known, Kronos Quartet has style—a commitment to the offbeat over the ordinary that we often refer to as a Seattle character trait. And for 40 years, the locally born, San Francisco–based chamber music ensemble has found ever-new ways to pluck strings. “Since 1973, our goals have been simple,” Kronos founder and violinist David Harrington said in 2011. “Find the most wonderful music and play it as well as possible.”
That wonderful stuff includes but is not limited to: contemporary classical, minimalist, and world music; jazz, rock, and pop; Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and the chilling score of Requiem for a Dream. Once aptly described as sonic “wanderlust,” Kronos Quartet has created new music with a fury—some 800 commissions and 53 recordings, performing with everyone from poet Allen Ginsberg to David Bowie to Björk. “The same type of chamber music ensemble—two violins, a viola and a cello—for which Mozart and Beethoven wrote can also be used to comment on international politics, interpret avant-garde rock, and incorporate music from every corner of the world,” said the 2011 Polar Music Prize organizers, bestowing Sweden’s highest music honor on Kronos Quartet (the same year the foursome took home the Avery Fisher Prize).
So: What do you get the string quartet that has everything? For its 40th anniversary show at the Neptune, Harrington and John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) have chosen to partner with an equally creative Seattle performance group, Degenerate Art Ensemble, for a concert and stage show. DAE composer Joshua Kohl, who’s been listening to Kronos since he was 12, couldn’t be more thrilled: “David Harrington is someone who’s on the hunt…for something different that he can sink his teeth into. That’s been really inspiring to me.” Kohl enticed Harrington with a clip of DAE’s recent work, Warrior, a visceral, abstract performance piece inspired in part by Joan of Arc and featuring choreographer-dancer Haruko Nishimura, backed by a string quartet and vocalists chanting, moaning, and singing into portable amplifiers. “Everything about this piece is very bright and intense and hypnotic,” said Kohl, not to mention “futuristic,” “primal,” and “raw.” Warrior won Harrington over.
“David said, ‘If you guys had been around, doing what you’re doing now 40 years ago in Seattle, I feel like we would have been collaborating together,’ ” Kohl recounted. And now that the moment’s here, “I can’t even imagine a more fun gang to make trouble with.”
*This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.*
Kronos Quartet with Degenerate Art Ensemble
Nov 16 at 8, Neptune Theatre, $44