Kronos Quartet: Behind The Scenes And Out Of Doors Hear world premiere performances by the Kronos Quartet and collaborators live at Lincoln Center's Out of Doors Festival. And rehearsal photos show new music and old instruments coming together.

Concerts

Kronos Quartet: Behind The Scenes And Out Of Doors

Kronos Quartet: Behind The Scenes And Out Of Doors

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/205177864/205503721" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

PROGRAM:

Kronos Quartet & Superhuman Happiness: Suite from How to Survive a Plague (world premiere)

Kronos Quartet, Abena Koomson & Sahr Ngaujah: Fela Kuti, "Sorrow, Tears and Blood"

Recently, I've been reading a lot about hyperpolyglots: freakishly talented, assiduously hardworking and wonderfully curious individuals who, usually by choice rather than because of geographic, cultural or familial circumstances, learn a whole bunch of languages — a dozen, 37 or 60 of them — just for the sheer joy of communication.

I think those linguistic superstars who can switch tongues with such ease and pleasure have musical kin in the Kronos Quartet. Founded 40 years ago by first violinist David Harrington, the quartet's current lineup also includes longtime second violinist John Sherba and violist Hank Dutt, who both became Kronos members in the late 1970s, along with cellist Sunny Jungin Yang, who just joined the group in June. Over the course of about 40 studio albums — an average of one per year — Kronos has trekked musical and physical terrain all over the globe, from world premieres of music by Steve Reich and Terry Riley to collaborations with artists from Nubian oud virtuoso Hamza El Din to Canadian Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. (I wrote the liner notes for one of their internationally focused albums, 2009's Floodplain.)

Just as with hyperpolyglots, Kronos switches musical idioms as the result of intense work and dedication. So as the group geared up for a five-day residency at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival — encompassing 28 concerts and events, 12 premieres, and seven collaborations between Kronos and other artists — photographer Polina V. Yamshchikov and I visited Kronos Tuesday at some of the rehearsals leading up to these performances.

Part of the fascination lay in watching the four slip in and out of styles as easily as other people would change coats. The first rehearsal we attended was with Greek composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer Magda Giannikou, whose Strophe in Antistrophe veers between regions as diverse as Brazil and Asia Minor and which will receive its world premiere Friday evening.

After a brief break at rehearsal, it was time to switch gears entirely for a session celebrating the music and legacy of Afrobeat visionary Fela Kuti in advance of last night's world premiere of the Red Hot + FELA LIVE! project. Kronos worked through Fela's "Sorrow, Tears and Blood" — an iconic, searing indictment of African military regimes of the 1970s — with singers Sahr Ngaujah and Abena Koomson, two stars of the musical Fela!

Afrobeat isn't Kronos' native tongue, and there was less interaction between the quartet and Ngaujah and Koomson during this rehearsal than in the previous session we'd attended with Giannikou, but the six collectively found their way into the music's groove, helped along by Red Hot + FELA LIVE!'s musical director, Stuart Bogie.

Kronos found a more easeful pairing with the band Superhuman Happiness (comprised of members of Antibalas, tUnE-yArDs and Iron and Wine) in a suite of music from the Academy Award-nominated AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague, whose music was written by Bogie, fellow Superhuman Happiness member Luke O'Malley and late composer and cellist Arthur Russell. The suite's eerie textures and snaking melodies suited this set of collaborators beautifully, as you can hear from the performance itself, recorded live Wednesday night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

With special thanks to the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival for providing the audio of last night's live performance.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Jeremy Dutcher performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 22, 2019 (Michael Zamora/NPR). Michael Zamora/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Michael Zamora/NPR

Jeremy Dutcher

There is no one making music like this 27-year-old, classically trained opera tenor and pianist. Watch and see why.

Ensemble Signal performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 25, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Ensemble Signal Plays Jonny Greenwood

Watch members of the New York-based group give the world premiere video performances of two recent pieces by Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood.

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider perform a Tiny Desk Concert on March 6, 2019. Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider

Watch what happens when the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico conspires with an adventuresome string quartet for songs steeped in Latin American traditions.

The Calidore String Quartet performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 5, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

The Calidore String Quartet

The Calidore String Quartet confirms that the centuries-old formula — two violins, a viola and a cello — is still very much alive and evolving.

Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 3, 2018 (Cameron Pollack/NPR)/ Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen

Carolina Eyck, the first artist to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk, plays the air with the kind of lyrical phrasing and "fingered" articulation that takes a special kind of virtuosity.

Anthony Roth Costanzo performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Aug. 10, 2018 (Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR). Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR

Anthony Roth Costanzo

Watch the ambitious countertenor sing music that spans more than 250 years, connecting the dots between David Byrne, George Frideric Handel and Philip Glass.

George Li performs a Tiny Desk Concert on July 31, 2018 (Eric Lee/NPR). Eric Lee/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eric Lee/NPR

George Li

Watch the young Harvard grad dispatch some of the most "knuckle-busting" piano repertoire with uncommon panache and precision.

Yo-Yo Ma performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 25, 2018 (Samantha Clark/NPR). Samantha Clark/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Samantha Clark/NPR

Yo-Yo Ma

Watch the 19-time Grammy winner return to his lifelong passion for J.S. Bach, playing music from the Cello Suites and offering advice on the art of incremental learning.

The King's Singers perform a Tiny Desk Concert on April 19, 2018 (Eslah Attar/NPR). Eslah Attar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eslah Attar/NPR

The King's Singers

The storied vocal ensemble brings close harmony singing to a diverse set list that includes a Beatles tune and a bawdy madrigal from the 1500s.

Back To Top