Kronos Quartet, a staple of the San Francisco music scene since 1978, is returning to Rancho Nicasio on Sunday, July 24 for the venue’s BBQ on the Lawn series. The night promises to be clement, with plentiful brews flowing freely and eclectic music emanating from the Kronos Quartet’s strings.
Kronos Quartet is decidedly not the traditional string quartet experience. Those concerned about a sleepy performance featuring snoring seatmates need not worry. Not only is Rancho Nicasio a lively and refreshing outdoor venue; the group is known for taking audiences along for an often unexpected, always exciting, classical thrill ride. According to its website, the quartet exists “to create, perform and promote music from a global perspective that responds to the world we share and expand the understanding of music’s role as a powerful force in society.”
Think of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which for those unfamiliar features live cannon fire, chimes and brass fanfare, for a general sense—minus the cannons—of Kronos’ adventurous, explorative and invigorating productions. This musical institution, including a nonprofit branch dedicated to developing the musical capacities of future generation artists and listeners, honors the profundity of music that only music can convey.
Kronos Quartet was first founded in 1973 in Seattle, WA, by violinist David Harrington and moved to its now home of San Francisco in 1978. Made up of four members, the quartet currently consists of Harrington on violin, John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola and Sunny Yang—the newest member—on cello.
The group has performed worldwide, recorded over 40 albums and is considered by many to be the most famous contemporary classical music group in the world. Their repertoire is expansive, with over 1,000 pieces commissioned over their nearly 50 years of performing. The group plays a strikingly diverse range of music, from work by minimalist composers such as John Adams, Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass, to pieces composed for them by Frank Zappa, to adaptations of works by Prince and Sigur Ros.
Kronos Quartet has performed alongside Allen Ginsberg, Björk, the National, Tom Waits and David Bowie. They have received over 40 musical awards, including two Grammy awards, the Polar Music Prize, the 2018 WOMEX Artist Award, and the Rolf Schock Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize, among others. They are constantly revolutionizing the quartet music experience and pushing the boundaries of classical music. The quartet tours five months of each year, appearing in the world’s most prestigious music venues,
Says founder Harrington of the group’s ethos, “I’ve always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life. To tell the story with grace and humor and depth. And to tell the whole story, if possible.”
Along with their illustrious and lengthy career transforming the landscape of classical music, their nonprofit arm, the Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA), has also built and sustained programs mentoring emerging musicians and composers, both in the United States and abroad.
“There are certain experiences in life that set the bar higher,” says Harrington. “One of them for me was when in 1974 Rostislav Dubinsky, the Borodin Quartet’s first violinist, spent three hours going over with me every question I had about Shostakovich’s 8th Quartet. This lesson set the bar for me as to what an elder musician ought to do for a younger musician. Each member of Kronos has received this kind of generous guidance from many people over the years. We have been given a wealth of spirit and knowledge that we hope to share.”
In 2015, Kronos Quartet and KPAA, which manages all aspects of the Kronos Quartet, launched 50 For the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire. This project is commissioning and freely distributing 50 new works for string quartets, designed specifically to educate and train new to mid-career string musicians and quartets. These commissioned pieces of music play many roles, including being used as remixable samples in KPAA’s collaboration with Sunset Youth Services, which supports young music producers, engineers and hip-hop artists. These remixes will be released by Sunset Youth Services’ in-house record label, Upstar Records.
Their ongoing dedication to keeping the story of classical music alive, contemporary and valuable to the community has made Kronos Quartet a musical institution and a gem in the crown of the Bay Area arts scene.
Check out Kronos Quartet this Sunday, July 24 at Rancho Nicasio, playing a set including works by Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Mazz Swift, Peni Candra Rini, Philip Glass and Michael Gordon.