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MCC: Kronos Quartet

Carlos Paredes: Romance No. 1
Aleksandra Vrebalov: Panonia Boundless
Rezso Seress: Gloomy Sunday
Hyo-shin Na: Song of the Beggars
Terry Riley: Cortejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo
from Requiem for Adam
Harry Partch: U.S. Highball: A Musical Account of Slim's Transcontinental Hobo Trip
Steve Reich: Different Trains

Kronos Quartet
David Harrington, violin
John Sherba, violin
Hank Dutt, viola
Jennifer Culp, cello
David Barron, vocalist


The immensely popular Kronos Quartet did not disappoint a full house of fans, but as one might expect with the kind of works they tend to present, neither did they always succeed. Six of the seven pieces offered were previously unknown to me, a kind of adventure I've always enjoyed.

The Romance No. 1 by Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes set the stage with more or less traditional string quartet sound and shimmering effects. Yugoslavian Aleksandra Vrebalov's Panonia Boundless draws strongly on folk-music elements to create a mixture of Slavic and Gypsy wistfulness derived from feelings of abandonment and rootlessness.

Sadness, indeed, permeated most of the program's ethos, most poignantly in a truly lovely setting by Osvaldo Golijov of Reszo Seress's song Gloomy Sunday, which most of us know from Billie Holiday recordings. Hyo-shin Na's 1998 work Song of the Beggars is based on a Korean folksong, and with extraordinary elaborations translates traditional musical expression utterly outside western traditions into quartet form.

The remainder of the program was loosely minimalist, starting with Terry Riley's "Cortejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo" from Requiem for Adam. Riley is a fascinating musician; anything he does is of interest, and as here tends to derive from patterns of sound and rhythm developing by subtle inner movement.

The major advance hoopla for this concert was about the first of two train works, Harry Partch's U.S. Highball: A Musical Account of Slim's Transcontinental Hobo Trip (1943). It proved to be less than expected, having little of Partch's trippy exoticism and lots of his boundless self-indulgence.

By great contrast, Steve Reich's Different Trains (1988) was riveting. It's a musically complex and intensely moving account for taped and live sounds portraying the composer's childhood criss-crossing of the US and including a mixture of American and European currents in the words of Holocaust survivors. It builds up an almost trance-like layering of impressions propelled by memory back and forth between New York and Los Angeles.

Visually the event was overproduced; the music can certainly stand on its own without a set, lighting, and costumes, a kind of throwback to 70s rock-star images. All the same, the concert was technically and musically on the highest level. The audience responded very enththusiastically.

Isthmus, March, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson

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