Where Violins Meet a Rap Beat the Kronos Quartet Commissions New Work, Raises the Level of Experimentation

By Laura Van Tuyl, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 20, 1991 | Go to article overview

Where Violins Meet a Rap Beat the Kronos Quartet Commissions New Work, Raises the Level of Experimentation


Laura Van Tuyl, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


RAP music may come from the streets, but there is no reason it can't be heard in a concert hall.

That's the message the Kronos Quartet delivered in a recent performance at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall. They knocked their instruments with their knuckles, scratched their bows across the strings, and spun out minor-toned melodies in sync with a tape recording of two bantering rappers:

"Pizzicato-pizzicato!"

"Take it to the bridge!"

"Funky violin, come on!"

Classical enthusiasts may cringe, but the Kronos Quartet never aims to please the purists. Its mission is to perform the music of our time - whether it is minimalism, serialism, jazz, or rock - with the same respect given to Beethoven or Brahms.

The group is a particular favorite with composers. The reason: The impressive number of new works commissioned for or by the Kronos Quartet - 12 to 14 a year - fuels creative resolve within a precarious profession.

"Composers are very fond of the Kronos Quartet," says Scott Johnson, whose "Soliloquy" was performed by the group at the Jordan Hall concert. "That you can write works that will be played widely by a successful and dedicated group - this is a big plus."

"If it hadn't been for a group like Kronos, I wouldn't have written 'Beat Boxer, says composer Michael Daugherty, referring to his rap music piece. "The Kronos has inspired a lot of composers to take risks.... There aren't many groups like them around."

It has been 12 years since the Kronos Quartet began its unabashed assault on chamber music's stuffed-shirt reputation. Ditching tuxedos for colorful, punkish attire and adding mood lighting, the group created a theatrical stage presence that immediately began to draw younger audiences. Their repertoire - from Schonberg to Philip Glass to Thelonius Monk - has grown, even as it has embraced composers from nations such as Japan, Argentina, and the Soviet Union. …

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