On the Wings of Pegasus (2013)
Yuri Boguinia (b. 1991)
On the Wings of Pegasus was composed for and is dedicated to the Kronos Quartet in honor of their fortieth anniversary. Realizing that I was about to compose a string quartet, an ensemble deeply rooted in our history, and that this new work would be brought to life by a group which has been an influence in the world before I was born, was a very moving realization. From the inception of On the Wings of Pegasus I knew that the passage of time would play the most important role in this piece. I have always seen music as pulsating paint on the white canvas of time, a beautiful fleeting metamorphosis of the human soul. In this piece the capricious, white, winged stallion is a symbol for time: oh, how I love this noble beast, how I wish it would seize its gallop if for even a second, yet I know that it was destined to fly without end. The piece begins with a bright ray of light, as the instruments play their highest open strings, these strings resonate in a sonority found in nature, the overtone series… Sometimes when it is very quiet you can hear the universe gently vibrating to these very notes. –Yuri Boguinia
Yuri Boguinia’s On the Wings of Pegasus was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
Clouded Yellow (2010)
Michael Gordon (b. 1956)
Working on this string quartet, I found myself thinking about the Clouded Yellow. This butterfly takes part in mass migrations that are referred to in England as ‘clouded yellow years.’ I love the image of a cloud of bright yellow butterflies, and I think the word ‘clouded’ describes the blurred harmonies and melodies of this piece.
I imagined the opening harmony to be accordion-like, a syncopated vamp played by the viola and cello. The rhythm, a tugging three over four, flits in and out. I heard some high sighing sounds floating above all of this and gave them to the violins. It was as if I could hear the flapping of butterfly wings. I imagined I was flying around on a butterfly, gliding in the air, the air dense with moisture, like in a rainforest. It was all very free and fanciful, like a travelogue around a garden.
I tried to feel the thickness of the atmosphere and create a reverberant sound texture. The raw sound of open strings drones in accompaniment to the melody. The C, G and D strings can be heard vibrating in almost all parts of the quartet. And the C string on cello, its lowest note, is used as a pedal point throughout. While I was creating this string quartet I thought about each of the members of Kronos. Their personalities and talents were never far from my consciousness.” – Michael Gordon
Michael Gordon’s Clouded Yellow was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College. Additional project support was provided by the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund.
Death to Kosmische (2010)
Nicole Lizée (b. 1973)
Death to Kosmische is a work that reflects my fascination with the notion of musical hauntology and the residual perception of music, as well as my love/hate relationship with the idea of genres. The musical elements of the piece could be construed as the faded and twisted remnants of the Kosmische style of electronic music. To do this, I have incorporated two archaic pieces of music technology (the Stylophone and the Omnichord) and have presented them through the gauze of echoes and reverberation, as well as through imitations of this technology as played by the strings. I think of the work as both a distillation and an expansion of one or several memories of music that are irrevocably altered by the impermanence of the mind. Only ghosts remain. – Nicole Lizée
Nicole Lizée's Death to Kosmische was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Margaret Dorfman and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund.
Lưu thủy trường (Running Water)
Traditional / Kim Sinh (b. 1930), arranged by Jacob Garchik (b. 1976)
Kim Sinh is a nationally renowned Vietnamese musician, born in Hanoi, who performs cải lương, a musical theatrical style that is based in folk songs. As one of the most well-known master artists of traditional music in Vietnam, Sinh was awarded the title “Vietnam’s Artist of Merit” in 1983. Blind since the age of three months, he learned to play many different Vietnamese traditional instruments while traveling with music groups touring around the country. When playing dance music in hotels in Hanoi, he came into contact with the slide guitar as well. In the 1990s, he recorded with Ry Cooder, but an album was never released. This arrangement of Lưu thủy trường is based on a recording by Sinh.
Trombonist and composer Jacob Garchik, born in San Francisco, has lived in New York since 1994. He has toured Europe and North America extensively with the acclaimed Lee Konitz New Nonet, and has played with Konitz since 1997. Since 2006 Garchik has contributed dozens of arrangements and transcriptions for the Kronos Quartet of music from all over the world. An active freelance trombonist, he plays with groups including the Ohad Talmor/Steve Swallow Sextet, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Slavic Soul Party!, and the Four Bags. His second CD, Romance, was hailed by the New York Times as "odd and excellent...taut with paradox...slow and beautiful art songs."
Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of Lưu thủy trường by Kim Sinh was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
All Clear – Rõ (2012)
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ (b. 1975)
III. Christmas Storm – Bão Giáng Sinh
V. Patching Up – Chắp Vá
Christmas Storm and Patching Up are the third and final sections of a five-movement staged work titled All Clear. About All Clear, Võ writes:
“I was born right after the war ended. I remember the suffering of the people around me who went through it. In All Clear, I want the audience to feel the suffering of women and children who bear the brunt of war, and of the many innocent people who are caught in the middle. My perspective is that of someone who was not on any side.
David Harrington encouraged me to weave together the distinctive sounds of Vietnamese language, culture, and history. Together, we explored Vietnamese instruments and musical traditions. I searched for many sounds to use in All Clear and I had the chance to travel to many provinces in Vietnam to record the sound and thoughts of local people.
Through my music, I hope to share a thousand years of Viet cultural history, which was overshadowed by the war. My instruments – the đàn Tranh, đàn Bầu, k’ni, and artillery gongs – represent the Viet cultural legacy. These instruments may have been drowned out by the sound of war but they survive.
The sound at the end of All Clear is a bridge between the past and present. The past already happened, and there were wounds in our hearts that have healed over time. The past now has taken a new form that reminds us of how painful those wounds were.
In working with David for a year and a half, I might say that All Clear was composed by the two of us.”
David Harrington writes:
“I have long wanted Kronos to explore the world of Vietnamese musical culture, but the intricacies of this vibrant culture and the immense instrumental variety to be found in Vietnamese musical life have been overwhelming. I learned of Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ’s work when she introduced herself after one of Kronos’ recent concerts at Stanford University. Van-Anh is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and composer, and possesses an enormous amount of knowledge about Vietnamese traditions. I felt I had found an expert guide to Vietnamese life, history and music. Together we started to explore making a concert piece.
Like many Americans of my generation, I knew about Vietnam mostly through the evening news reports about the war in the 1960s and early ’70s. I remember the horror of seeing people dying on TV – both Vietnamese and American. The North Vietnamese were demonized in our society at that time. I recall my spiritual confusion growing up in a mad-warrior society that was bent on its own ruin, and at the time I often wondered what I could do to help change this.
I found a moment of sanity one August night in 1973, when on the radio I heard George Crumb's Black Angels for the first time, performed by the New York String Quartet. In my opinion Black Angels (1970) is the great American musical masterpiece to have resulted from the ‘Vietnam’ War (known in Vietnam as the ‘American’ War). This was a time when, as Crumb later said to me, ‘There were strange things in the air.’ I formed Kronos the next month, in order to play that piece.
As time passed, my collection of recordings from Vietnam has grown and my appreciation for the varieties of music and instruments to be found there has increased immeasurably. I’ve long felt that much remains to be done to atone artistically for an American-made war that brought much suffering and ruin to so many innocent people. I hope to help create a musical experience that will explore some of the inner reaches of Vietnamese music.
Van-Anh and I began by listening together to Vietnamese music of mourning. It seemed to me that the sound of the đàn Bầu, a one-stringed plucked instrument with a buffalo-horn whammy bar, was created especially for mourning. We want to tell a story through music using a variety of instruments from Vietnam and the West, connected by several poems by Hồ Xuân Hương (1772–1822). She was a 19th century woman with 21st century sensibilities. There are multiple dimensions of meaning expressed at the same time in her poetry – poems within poems – which contain images of female desire and longing coupled with scenes of everyday life. Van-Anh recorded and collected sounds from Vietnam, which we use to weave a web of sound, providing windows into Vietnamese culture and society. The music was built over this sonic ‘ground.’”
Research assistance by Nikolás McConnie-Saad and Derek Lance.
Backing tracks recorded at Women’s Audio Mission, San Francisco.
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ’s All Clear was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Kronos Performing Arts Association, and the David Harrington Research & Development Fund.
Queen of the Night (2012)
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ (b. 1975)
“The spiritual music called Xa Thuong originated in northern Vietnam, and is used mainly in the Ceremony of Death to connect spirits in death and spirits in present life. After spending years playing music for and serving in spiritual ceremonies with my masters, I reached a point where music became an inner voice that could take me to different lifetimes. The frightening feeling of being able to breathe and inhale in both worlds made it possible for me to travel to impossible places where desires of love, peace, and freedom flow unstoppable. Yes, Queen of The Night was born with these inspirations, and the đàn Tranh is the voice that helps me to express all of these passions.” - Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ’s Queen of the Night was written for the Kronos Quartet.
Prelude from Tristan und Isolde (1865)
Richard Wagner (1813–1883), Arranged by Aleksandra Vrebalov (b. 1970)
The Kronos Quartet commissioned Aleksandra Vrebalov’s arrangement for triple quartet of the Prelude and Liebestod from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (1865) for the 2012 Uppsala International Sacred Music Festival. Two aspects of that sentence give one pause. First, a gentle adjustment is needed: what we now call the Prelude was for Wagner the Liebestod or “Love-death,” while he designated the opera’s closing moments Isolde’s Verklärung or “Transfiguration.” Second, Wagner’s Tristan at a festival of sacred music?
The idea is less far-fetched than it may seem at first glance. Wagner, after all, founded a cult (with himself as demiurge), a pilgrimage site at Bayreuth, and even a “festival-play for the consecration of a stage,” Parsifal. (“To sit five hours: the first stage of holiness!” sneered the master’s one-time acolyte Friedrich Nietzsche.) The enigmatic chord of F, B, D#, and G# in Tristan’s second measure is widely considered a musical epiphany, the moment when major-minor tonality began an irreversible slide into liquefaction—a grand narrative that abides even in our postmodern times. (Vrebalov’s arrangement, incidentally, makes use of Wagner’s own concert ending for the “Love-death”/Prelude.)
The word Verklärung offers even weightier grist for the mill. Klar in Verklärung is cognate with clear, “free from darkness.” In Christian theology, transfiguration denotes the radiant fusion of human and divine: Jesus was transfigured when “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light,” and his disciples saw him in glory conversing with Moses and Elijah. During her transfiguration, Isolde gazes upon the lifeless Tristan and sees him “ever brighter, brightly shining, borne in starlight high above.” Tristan and Isolde, though, are no Christians, and they spurn the day and its illusions in favor of night—the realm of truth and oneness and desire’s annihilation in Wagner’s reading of Arthur Schopenhauer’s Buddhist- and Hindu-tinged philosophy. Tristan shines and Isolde is transfigured because, like stars in the night sky, blackness swallows them up.
Schopenhauer may also offer a clue as to why Vrebalov chose to arrange the Liebestod and Transfiguration for both live and recorded performers. It is surely not a matter of numbers alone: the notion that Wagner wrote only ear-splitting music for bloated forces is slander, and some of the most haunting passages in Tristan and the master’s other operas comprise mere wisps of sound. In The Recording Angel, his penetrating study of phonography, Evan Eisenberg suggests that recording, which seems to give listeners access to disembodied sound, helps us to “hear what Schopenhauer heard”: to perceive music as “the true reality” and the visible world as “Maya” (illusion). The idea that music is intrinsically noumenal and immaterial is of course open to question, but Vrebalov’s arrangement, mingling musicians seen and unseen, sounds “real” and spectral, invites concert audiences to meditate on the primal mysteries at the heart of Tristan.
David Harrington, Kronos’ founder and first violinist, became mesmerized by the Tristan “Love-death”/Prelude after seeing Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia (2011), in which Wagner’s music serves as soundtrack to the end of life on Earth. He subsequently fell under the spell of a desperately beautiful performance by the New York Philharmonic under Bruno Walter that was recorded in 1943. In Harrington’s view, works such as Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, and Wagner’s song of passion (in both the profane sense of “sexual love” and the religious meaning of “suffering”) are “sacred” for their density, magnetism, and the vulnerability they convey. “No religion has a monopoly on the sacred,” he says.
The delicacy and open-hearted fragility of the Prelude, qualities heightened in Vrebalov’s distillation of Wagner’s score, represent for Harrington “the place where we humans are in our most direct contact with the vastness of the universe, and where the resulting friction between us and the world meets the friction of the bow on the string.” Like Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, Bernard Herrmann, and countless others since 1865, Kronos, Vrebalov, and today’s audiences are sure to be transformed by the blinding light and otherworldly darkness of Tristan und Isolde.
– Marion Lignana Rosenberg
Sim Sholom (c. 1913)
Alter Yechiel Karniol (1855–1929), Arranged by Judith Berkson (b. 1977)
This arrangement of Sim Sholom is inspired by a recording made by Cantor Alter Yechiel Karniol around 1913. Karniol was born in Dzialoszyce, Poland (near Krakow), and sang in Hungary in a number of congregations before being invited by the Hungarian congregation Ohab Zedek in New York City to be its cantor. He returned to Europe to officiate at the Great Synagogue of Odessa, but after the 1905 pogrom erupted he returned to the United States and eventually resumed officiating at Ohab Zedek.
Karniol was noted for his extraordinary range and his intensely emotional, improvisatory style. He made the recording of Sim Sholom that this arrangement is based on in New York for Columbia Records, backed by a male chorus. The text is the final blessing of the weekday service, which says, in part, “Grant peace, goodness, blessing, grace, kindness, and compassion upon us and upon all of Your people Israel.” –Judith Berkson
Judith Berkson’s arrangement of Sim Sholom was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research & Development Fund, and is part of a five-song cycle dedicated to the memory of Harold Goldberg.
Pamela Z (b. 1956)
And the Movement of the Tongue (2012)
“And the Movement of the Tongue is a work about speaking accents—specifically accented English. It started as an exploration of the profusion of broad-ranging accents that abound in the San Francisco Bay Area. But my last 2 1/2 months of composing the work were spent at an artist residency in North Carolina, so I couldn’t help but to expand the scope of the piece to include some of the richness in speaking accents I found there.
I have always had a fascination with language and speech, and have made many works that use the sound of the human voice as both an inspiration and a primary source for the actual generation of the music. I spend a lot of time listening to, exploring, and working with speech sounds, but in this case my focus was on the sometimes subtle and sometimes extreme differences in pronunciation and inflections of various English speakers.
To create this piece, I conducted and recorded interviews with a number of people who speak English with a variety of either regional, foreign language, or cultural accents. Combing through those recorded interviews, I hand-selected speech fragments (phonemes, words, phrases, and complete sentences) that I found to be sonically or musically interesting. I created hundreds of audio clips, which I used to construct the text collage that became a kind of armature for the work. Many of the motifs in the string parts were derived from the melodic and rhythmic material found in the samples of those speech fragments.
The interviews, though fairly short and limited to the topic of accent, were compelling, amusing, and often revealing. The subjects willingly engaged in discussion about their own speech and what they felt influenced it. They also offered thoughtful insights concerning everything from social biases toward or against various accents to questioning the validity of the idea of a ‘pure,’ ‘correct,’ or ‘unaccented’ English. And they all provided a seemingly endless supply of rhythmically, melodically, and timbrally rich building blocks for music. For that I’d like to extend thanks to my interviewees: Jordan Bass, Hugh Buck, Luciano Chessa, Mel Chin, Hank Dutt, Claudia Gonzales-Griffin, Guillermo Galindo, David Harrington, Ruth Hawkins, Martine Jardel, Joan Jeanrenaud, Peter Kaars, Lakshmi Karna, Manoj Kesavan, Tomoo Kitamura, Dennis Lemmons, John Love, Ibrahim Miranda, Anne Pajunen, JoAnn Sieburg-Baker, John Sherba, Donald Swearingen, David West, and Jeffrey Zeigler." –Pamela Z
Pamela Z’s And the Movement of the Tongue was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by The Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund supported by generous grants from ArtPlace, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and The James Irvine Foundation. Additional commissioning support was provided by The Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts."
For the Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association:
Janet Cowperthwaite, Managing Director
Laird Rodet, Associate Director
Matthew Campbell, Strategic Initiatives Director
Sidney Chen, Artistic Administrator
Scott Fraser, Sound Designer
Christina Johnson, Communications and New Media Manager
Nikolás McConnie-Saad, Office Manager
Hannah Neff, Production Associate
Laurence Neff, Production Director
Lucinda Toy, Business Operations Manager
Curtis Smith, Chair, Board of Directors
Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association
P. O. Box 225340
San Francisco, CA 94122-5340 USA
Twitter: @kronosquartet #kronos
The Kronos Quartet records for Nonesuch Records.