Kronos Quartet – Folk Songs I

19. 6. 2017 | Rubriky: Articles,Interviews

[by Ken Hunt, London] This interview with David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet took place on 11 July 2014 – long before Folk Songs (released by Nonesuch Records in June 2017) was even conceived. It is published for the historian-minded. This sliver ends with talking about Ukrainian composer-musician Mariana Sadovska.

So, 40th Anniversary. There’s a venerable history of string quartets lasting a long time whether in Moravia or Budapest or wherever. What do you think worked for Kronos to last these decades?

You know, I think it’s probably the energy that the members of Kronos have received from the music that we play and from the relationships that we have composers and other performers. And the fact that the music that has come our way has been so interesting, exciting, and fun and challenging. For me, that’s what’s kept me going for sure.

Do you look at all to some of the old string quartets that survived the buffets of time and history, for instance, surviving communism in the case of Eastern European ones?

You mean, look at them for like inspiration?


I’m sure every quartet has its own dynamic and internal energy.

I would look at somebody like Pete Seeger for inspiration probably more than I would a lot of other people. I heard he was out chopping wood ten days before he died. And I’m sure he was singing, too. For me, I feel like the string quartet is my instrument, more than the violin is my instrument. I’m sure I play the violin and deal with all the things you have to deal with to play the violin in order to have the quartet as my instrument.

Part of the programme you’ve got scheduled for London [note: it took place on 18 May 2014 as Explorations: The Sound of Nonesuch RecordsSession Four at Milton Court, Guildhall School of Music & Drama] has a folk music connection. Is it a one-off or is that programme going to appear elsewhere?

Well, I think elements of our programmes end up appearing all over in many of our concerts. For example, the other night [15 February 2014] in Burlington, Vermont we played a [Mary Kouyoumdjian] piece called Bombs in Beirut that was just written for us. It deals with the Civil War in Lebanon. Later on the programme we played Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11. After intermission we played Black Angels by George Crumb. Now, we’d never done anything quite like that but all of those pieces have figured, and will figure into the future. Once you find something that is gripping and exciting to play and has many angles to it that can be appreciated in various settings, when you find that kind of material then it will end up in other settings definitely.

I was just wondering whether you have future plans already pencilled in, for instance, to work with Natalie Merchant or Rhiannon Giddens.

Not right at the moment. I’ve got an idea for Rhiannon Giddens that I can’t wait to talk to her about.

I had an email from Peggy Seeger this morning. She was talking about how Rhiannon is so phenomenal. I’ve seen [Giddens] live a few times and I’m just spellbound by her.

Yeah. She’s great.

I can imagine how she might fit in with the Kronos. I’ll come back to the folk stuff. There is a long history of folksong being slipped into classical composition.

I was interested that you singled out Pete Seeger. What sort of material do you have plannedif you have it planned yetfor the London concert?

We’re exploring that right now. That’s why it’s a little too early to talk about that right now specifically.

I don’t know if you’ve heard yet but we have an album coming out as part of the 40th Anniversary celebration. Nonesuch is re-releasing five of our albums: Pieces of Africa, Nuevo, Floodplain, Caravan and Night Prayers. [Note: Ken Hunt wrote the CD booklet notes for Pieces of Africa and Caravan.]

Also we’ll be playing with [Ukrainian composer-musician] Mariana Sadovska in London.

When’s that? Is it part of the same programme?

We have two different visits to London.

There’s the Nonesuch visit and then there’s the other one. During that time is when we’ll also be doing [Sadovska’s] Chernobyl. The Harvest.

That’ll be interesting. I saw her last year [2013] at Rudolstadt. She did a really powerful piece about the Ukraine and basically people’s perceptions of the countryit just being a huge brothel and stuff like that. A really powerful piece.

Well, the songs that make up Chernobyl. The Harvest are absolutely amazing and really, really beautiful. She’s really done a great work for us. It’s one of our favourite collaborations.

It’ll be the first time in England.

I’ve never seen her perform in England. That’s going to be interesting. I’ve only ever seen her perform in Germany. I’ve seen her perform a couple of times in Germany.


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