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Kronos Quartet bridges war-torn cultures 

Wednesday, Jul 30 2008
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Read any article about Kronos Quartet, and it will be abundantly clear that David Harrington gushes with unbridled ardor for music the world over. The violinist, who founded San Francisco's experimental string quartet in 1973, listens for new pieces to perform everywhere, from documentaries on Chicago's Serbian neighborhoods to the raw sounds of Sublime Frequencies CDs. Thankfully, the Kronos Quartet (including violinist John Sherba, viola player Hank Dutt, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler) can adapt to such musical situations, whether that means attempting the incandescence of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" or evoking the stillness of Morton Feldman's later compositions. For Yerba Buena Center's Music Without Borders Festival, Kronos Quartet will transport its American audience to "enemy territory" and forgotten corners of the globe. Below, Harrington enthuses on a few pieces to be performed this weekend:

Rahman Asadollahi (arr. Kronos, transc. Ljova), "Mugam Beyati Shiraz"

"About three years ago, Iranian-Azari musician Rahman came to our rehearsal. I didn't speak any of the languages that he spoke and he didn't speak any of my languages. He just opened the case to his garmon [accordion] and began to play this piece. In about five minutes, I was overcome. When our translator arrived, I asked to be sure that Rahman gave that piece for Kronos [to perform]. This music has never been notated before. It's from an oral tradition going back a hundred years. When I first looked at it, it was the most complicated violin solo I'd ever seen in my life."

Aleksandra Vrebalov, "... hold me, neighbor, in this storm ..." (West Coast premiere)

"I first met Aleksandra when she was a student at the S.F. Conservatory from Yugoslavia ... and I said [to her], 'I don't understand what's happening in your homeland. I try to follow it and I get so confused. Can you write a piece that would explain what's happening?' Fast forward a year or two later, she's written this piece. It takes music from Serbia, Albania, and the surrounding areas. She found a way of integrating everything: She recorded her grandmother singing an old Serbian song, some calls to prayer, some Orthodox church bells, and sounds of several wars."

Homayoun Sakhi (arr. Stephen Prutsman), "The Rainbow" (world premiere)

"Here we are in the middle of a rehearsal and we realize that where Homayun [an Afghan rubâb player] is feeling the downbeat is a completely different place than what we're reading. It took us four rehearsals to figure it out. Collaboration between musicians of different backgrounds can take you into all kinds of directions trying to figure things out."

Ramallah Underground (arr. Jacob Garchik), "Tashweesh" (world premiere)

"The other day we got this amazing piece from this Palestinian group. The rhythmic track to that piece was notated in a way that makes it really difficult to do. But you have to work with what information or what experience you have."

Traditional (arr. Jacob Garchik), "Lullaby"

"I think so much of music that we're attracted to ... presents the inner sound that people are working with [around the world]. This Iranian lullaby was recorded by a documentary team from the BBC in southern Iran. In that particular area, there's a large community of people with African heritage. If I didn't know the music was from Iran, I would've thought North Africa. The essence sounded African."

Unknown (arr. Kronos, transc. Ljova), "Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me"

"It's quite difficult in our society to find information about Iraqi music at the moment. I can't remember when this recording came out [on Sublime Frequencies' Choubi Choubi! Pop and Folk from Iraq], but I had to have [this unknown singer's piece] immediately.

"Last year, we were invited to play a concert in a refugee camp [in Vienna]. It is the oldest refugee camp in Austria, started right after the Second World War. We began to play that piece and the audience was filled with family from all over the Middle East, Africa, and people began singing that song with us. So somebody knows that song. That really shocked me."

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Andy Beta

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