David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello)
For 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually re-imagining the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 50 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world's most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 800 works and arrangements for string quartet. In 2011, Kronos became the only recipients of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians. The group’s numerous awards also include a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
Kronos’ adventurous approach dates back to the ensemble’s origins. In 1973, David Harrington was inspired to form Kronos after hearing George Crumb's Black Angels, a highly unorthodox, Vietnam War-inspired work featuring bowed water glasses, spoken word passages, and electronic effects. Kronos then began building a compellingly diverse repertoire for string quartet, performing and recording works by 20th-century masters (Bartók, Webern, Schnittke), contemporary composers (John Adams, Osvaldo Golijov, Aleksandra Vrebalov), jazz legends (Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk), rock artists (guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, Brazilian electronica artist Amon Tobin, and Icelandic indie-rock group Sigur Rós), and artists who truly defy genre (performance artist Laurie Anderson, composer/sound sculptor/inventor Trimpin, interdisciplinary composer/performer Meredith Monk).
Integral to Kronos’ work is a series of long-running, in-depth collaborations with many of the world’s foremost composers. One of the quartet's most frequent composer-collaborators is “Father of Minimalism” Terry Riley, whose work with Kronos includes Salome Dances for Peace (1985–86); Sun Rings (2002), a multimedia, NASA-commissioned ode to the earth and its people, featuring celestial sounds and images from space; and Another Secret eQuation for youth chorus and string quartet, premiered at an April 2011 concert celebrating Riley's 75th birthday. Kronos commissioned and recorded the three string quartets of Polish composer Henryk Górecki, with whom the group worked for more than 25 years. The quartet has also collaborated extensively with composers such as Philip Glass, recording a CD of his string quartets in 1995 and premiering a new work in 2013, among other projects; Azerbaijan’s Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, whose works are featured on the full-length 2005 release Mugam Sayagi; Steve Reich, from Kronos’ performance of the Grammy-winning composition Different Trains (1989) to the September 11–themed WTC 9/11 (2011); and many more.
In addition to composers, Kronos counts numerous performers from around the world among its collaborators, including the Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man; Azeri master vocalist Alim Qasimov, legendary Bollywood “playback singer” Asha Bhosle, featured on Kronos’ Grammy-nominated CD You’ve Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman’s Bollywood; Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq; Mexican rockers Café Tacvba; sound artist and instrument builder Walter Kitundu; and the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks. Kronos has performed live with the likes of icons Allen Ginsberg, Zakir Hussain, Modern Jazz Quartet, Noam Chomsky, Rokia Traoré, Tom Waits, David Barsamian, Howard Zinn, Betty Carter, and David Bowie, and has appeared on recordings by such diverse talents as Nine Inch Nails, Dan Zanes, DJ Spooky, Dave Matthews, Nelly Furtado, Joan Armatrading, and Don Walser. In dance, the famed choreographers Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, and Eiko & Koma have created pieces with Kronos’ music.
Kronos’ work has also featured prominently in a number of films, including, most recently, the Academy Award–nominated AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague (2012) and Dirty Wars (2012), a documentary exposé of covert warfare for which Kronos’ David Harrington served as Music Supervisor. Kronos also performed scores by Philip Glass for the films Mishima and Dracula (a restored edition of the 1931 Tod Browning–Bela Lugosi classic) and by Clint Mansell for the Darren Aronofsky films The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream. Additional films featuring Kronos’ music include 21 Grams, Heat, and True Stories.
The quartet spends five months of each year on tour, appearing in concert halls, clubs, and festivals around the world including BAM Next Wave Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, WOMAD, UCLA’s Royce Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Shanghai Concert Hall, and the Sydney Opera House. Kronos is equally prolific and wide-ranging on recordings. The ensemble’s expansive discography on Nonesuch Records includes collections like Pieces of Africa (1992), a showcase of African-born composers, which simultaneously topped Billboard’s Classical and World Music lists; 1998’s ten-disc anthology, Kronos Quartet: 25 Years; Nuevo (2002), a Grammy- and Latin Grammy–nominated celebration of Mexican culture; and the 2004 Grammy-winner, Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. Among the group’s latest releases are Rainbow (Smithsonian Folkways, 2010), in collaboration with musicians from Afghanistan and Azerbaijan; Uniko (Ondine, 2011), with Finnish accordion/sampler duo Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen; and Music of Vladimir Martynov (Nonesuch, 2011). Music publishers Boosey & Hawkes and Kronos released sheet music for three signature Kronos-commissioned works in Kronos Collection, Volume 1 (2006), a performing edition edited by Kronos; Volume 2 will be released in 2014.
In addition to its role as a performing and recording ensemble, the quartet is committed to mentoring emerging performers and composers and has led workshops, master classes, and other education programs via the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the California State Summer School for the Arts, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Institute, The Barbican in London, and other institutions in the U.S. and overseas. Kronos is undertaking extended educational residencies in 2013–14 at UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, and the Kaufman Music Center in New York City.
With a staff of ten based in San Francisco, the non-profit Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA) manages all aspects of Kronos’ work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours, concert presentations in the San Francisco Bay Area, education programs, and more.
One of KPAA’s most exciting initiatives is the Kronos: Under 30 Project, a unique commissioning and residency program for composers under age 30 that has now added five new works to the Kronos repertoire. By cultivating creative relationships with emerging and established artists from around the world, Kronos and KPAA reap the benefit of decades of wisdom while maintaining a fresh approach to music-making.