Aleksandra Vrebalov: Bubbles
Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Thomas Kozumplik: Vibraphone
Bryce Dessner: Aheym (Homeward)
Bryce Dessner: Guitar
Traditional: Tusen Tankar (A thousand thoughts)
Geeshie Wiley: Last Kind Words (arr. Jacob Garchik)
Omar Souleyman: La Sidounak Sayyada (I'll present the hunters from hunting you) (arr. Jacob Garchik)
Terry Riley: The Serquent Risadome
Severiano Briseno: El Sinaloense (The man from Sinaloa)
Face the Music
Laurie Anderson: Flow (arr. Jacob Garchik)
Jherek Bischoff: A Semiperfect Number
Jherek Bischoff: Bass guitar
Philip Glass: Orion: China (arr. Michael Riesman)
Wu Man: Pipa
Vladimir Martynov: The Beatitudes, from La Grande Bellezza
Clint Mansell: Lux Aeterna, from Requiem for a Dream (arr. David Lang)
Clint Mansell: Death is the Road to Awe, from The Fountain (arr. Kronos Quartet)
Electric equipment and a silver screen are a rather uncommon sight on the stage of Carnegie Hall's august Stern Auditorium, but on Friday night the element of surprise quickly faded when one remembered that the headliner was The Kronos Quartet, one of the most boldly eclectic ensembles in classical music.
The occasion was the celebration of four busy decades spent constantly pushing the boundaries of the string quartet formula while resolutely engaging in ground-breaking cross-cultural adventures, and the promise to a fifth one just as exciting. So it was not overly surprising - and rather heart-warming - to see that the audience filling up the concert hall looked more diverse than usual.
After the short film "Kronos at 40" summed up as succinctly as possible the quartet's remarkable career, the four current members took the stage along with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus for Vrebalov's "Bubbles". Energetic and playful, it readily opened the concert on a quirky, upbeat note, youthful laughter included.
More cross-generational collaboration was on display with the first number after intermission, when young string players from the Face the Music program, which Kronos violinist David Harrington greeted as "the future", joined the quartet for an all-around rambunctious "El Sinaloense", an infectious Mexican folk song by Severiano Briseno.
One of the advantages of collaborating with living composers is that they sometimes can come and join you onstage, and that's exactly what Bryce Dessner and Jherek Bischoff did on Friday night. Bryce Dessner's "Aheym" was an intense, pulse-driven work, whose sense of urgency was duplicated by the gritty sounds of his electric guitar.
Looking like he had just stepped out of a 50s rockabilly band, Jherek Bischoff was also able to contribute in person to his "A Semiperfect Number". The piece had a complex, ever-evolving texture, which benefited significantly from the addition of the bass guitar.
Bigger names in contemporary music composition were not on hand, but that did not keep us from enjoying their works. As such, Laurie Anderson's "Flow" was a little marvel of peaceful harmonies and minimalist structure.
On the other hand, "Orion: China" by Master of Minimalism Philip Glass brightly exploded with virtuosity and exoticism, not the least thanks to the presence of the young Chinese musician whom David Harrington heralded as the "Queen of Pipa", Wu Man. Making full use of her incredible dexterity, the piece adroitly featured many sounds playing with and against one another for a memorable string feast.
Not to be outdone, Terry Riley's "The Serpent Risadome", which had been commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Carnegie Hall (That's what I call an anniversary gift!), was having its world premiere that evening and proved that the long-standing relationship between the ensemble and the composer is as fruitful as ever. Fearlessly exploring all the possibilities of the string quartet, Riley created an endlessly intriguing composition.
During the first half of the program, we also made a little melancholic detour by Scandinavia with the traditional folk song "Tusen Tankar", whose theme of unrequited love delicately unfolded in all its timelessness. But the mood quickly perked up with the jazzy sassiness of Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Words", and became downright festive with "La Sidounak Sayyada", the irresistible dance tune by Syrian music superstar Omar Souleyman.
This rocking celebration ended in a more subdued atmosphere with three soundtracks, starting with Vladimir Martynov's conventionally beautiful "The Beatitudes", which has recently been heard in La Grande Bellezza. Clint Mansel's "Lux Aeterna" from Requiem for a Dream and "Death is the Road to Awe" from The Fountain were also in the same classical mood, albeit with accompanying recorded tracks, and magisterially demonstrated that the Kronos Quartet can effortlessly master all possible genres.
The evening could not end without a truly out-of-the-box number, so we got to happily indulge into a shamelessly amplified, ferociously hot "Purple Haze", a party favor so brazenly exhilarating that, for a few minutes, we indeed felt like we were kissing the sky. I just can't wait for the quartet's 50th anniversary.