It says something about San Francisco's new music group the Kronos Quartet that they've won honors from two very dissimilar organizations on the same day.
The quartet, which was founded in 1973 and whose current lineup includes violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, has been given the $75,000 Avery Fisher Prize awarded by Lincoln Center. The roster of past winners that this foursome will join tends to represent a more straitlaced classical aesthetic, including violinists Gil Shaham and Joshua Bell, pianist Yefim Bronfman, Emanuel Ax and Murray Perahia. The Kronos Quartet will be given the award June 8.
On the other side of the coin, the group will journey to Stockholm for an August 30 Polar Prize ceremony with the King and Queen of Sweden. This award comes with approximately US $155,000. It's a very different musical company that the Kronos Quartet joins in Sweden: The other 2011 winner is is Patti Smith and recent past winners include Björk, Led Zeppelin and Gilberto Gil. (It's worth noting, however, that the Polar Prize is quite receptive to including classical musicians in their midst; other recent honorees include José Antonio Abreu and El Sistema, Renée Fleming and Valery Gergiev.)
"Purple Haze" for Big Bird.
There's no slowing Kronos down, either. This past weekend, the quartet offered the New York premiere of Steve Reich's WTC 9/11; this coming weekend, they'll do a residency at the Barbican in London that features UK premiere of the Reich piece as well as the world premiere of Aheym (Homeward) by The National's Bryce Dessner and the UK premiere of Michael Gordon's Clouded Yellow, among other works.
Just in case you don't think that the Kronos foursome has tried to reach out to all imaginable audiences, check out their appearance on Sesame Street in 1987, in which they explain the concept of a string quartet to an attentive Big Bird. (Dig all that neon! And the hair!)