Kronos Quartet Wants To Give You Free Music — And Teach You How To Play It : Deceptive Cadence The Quartet's Fifty for the Future project will commission 50 pieces by as many composers. Then the scores and instructional videos will be free online.

Kronos Quartet Wants To Give You Free Music — And Teach You How To Play It

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


For 40 years, Kronos Quartet has been expanding the possibilities of the classical string quartet. Now the Kronos organization has turned its attention to the future with a project aimed at creating new music for the next generation of string players and teaching them how to play it for free. From New York, Tom Vitale has the story.

GARTH KNOX: Can I just show you one thing? You never thought of doing it with the two fingers, average the technique...

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: Irish composer Garth Knox is in a Carnegie Hall rehearsal studio, explaining how to play his piece "Satellites" to four 20-something musicians from San Francisco who called themselves the Friction Quartet.

KNOX: When you finish a note...


KNOX: (Imitating instrument) And then (unintelligible), it's much more dramatic.

VITALE: Knox says "Satellites" tries to express sounds he imagines coming from outer space.


VITALE: To create them, he used an unconventional approach.

KNOX: The small techniques, which are overlooked in classical music - the little bow noises you can make by doing things not quite as your teacher showed you, but what you do when he's not looking. And you can find amazing things. Bows and strings can work in many different ways.

VITALE: Four days after the workshop, the Friction Quartet performed Knox's "Satellites" in a concert at Carnegie's Zankel Hall.


VITALE: It's all part of a project called Fifty for the Future. Kronos Quartet is commissioning 50 works from as many different composers. Kronos will premiere each piece then hold workshops with the composer and young musicians. Then the score will be posted on the Kronos website free for anyone to download along with performance and instructional videos. Garth Knox was paid for the commission. But the 59-year-old composer says he doesn't mind relinquishing the copyright in return for hearing "Satellites" performed around the world.

KNOX: I'm very happy that people play my pieces. It's a delight for me. I want as many people to play it as possible. There's nothing secret about what I'm doing. I'm very happy to share it. And I find this whole project a show of generosity.

VITALE: The 25-year-old violist in the Friction Quartet, Taija Warbelow, says the project is a boon for young musicians.

TAIJA WARBELOW: When you're starting out in chamber music, you often play Mozart or Haydn or things like this. And you don't actually get exposed to new classical music until much later in your career. And it would've been great to have these pieces that they're commissioning now when I was younger 'cause you learn a whole host of new techniques. And you help support the music that is being created now if you're exposed to it younger.

VITALE: The five-year project has a budget of $1.5 million dollars, funded in part by Carnegie Hall. Along with Knox's "Satellites," the first group of commissions includes a piece for electronics and strings and quartet music from Serbia, Mali and composer Wu Man's "Four Chinese Paintings."


VITALE: Wu Man is a virtuoso of the pipa, a pear-shaped, four-stringed instrument sometimes called the Chinese lute. And she wants to get that sound from a string quartet.

WU MAN: I'm not trying to imitate a bow instrument I'm hoping bow instrument could imitate my - the plucking, the pipa sound like lot of...


MAN: ...That kind of bending the notes, the slides that's on the left hand. So that bring a different language. So very different from European music.


VITALE: Wu Man came to New York to show three young quartets how to play the piece after Kronos premiered it.


VITALE: Kronos violinist David Harrington says when all 50 of the commissions are delivered, the result will be a mosaic of what's possible in string quartet music available for anybody to learn.

DAVID HARRINGTON: What I hope will happen is that the art form is just going to expand. And the explorations that are - will be possible from this body of work will just bring a lot of new energy into the field.

VITALE: On tap for Kronos's Fifty for the Future, works for string quartet by Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.


SIMON: BJ Leiderman writes our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.