String Beings

event KronosKronos Quartet continues to broaden musical horizons at 40

For David Harrington, the 40 years he has spent as violinist for the Kronos Quartet have been magical. “It’s incredibly satisfying to be a part of Kronos and the work we’ve been able to do,” Harrington says. “The music we’ve been able to explore, and the variety of experiences that have become a part of our concerts and our work, is totally thrilling and has kept me on the edge of my chair all these years.”

In keeping with its tradition of variety and exploration, the Kronos Quartet will offer two very different performances at the 51st annual Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, which runs Aug. 2-11. During their first appearance on Aug. 3, the quartet will perform composer Thomas Newman’s (American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption) “It Got Dark.” Then, on Aug. 4, the group will star in a solo performance featuring everything from early electronic instruments like the omnichord, to one-stringed instruments like the dan bau.

“My goal is that the audience will be able to remember each of the pieces we played because the contrast between them was so great,” Harrington says. “It’s like making this amazingly beautiful rock garden out of music, and each of the beautiful flowers that comes from the earth between these amazing rocks is incredibly, indelibly, wonderfully beautiful. If we do it right, you’ll be able to remember everything we play.”

The quartet has recorded dozens of albums over the years, and thanks to the Kronos Performing Arts Association, they have premiered more than 800 pieces which have been commissioned specifically for them by composers from around the globe.

For Harrington, teaching and mentoring other musicians, particularly young ones—something the group does regularly—is just as important as performing.

“Increasingly, there are groups, many of them very young groups, even high school groups, that are playing our music,” he says. “Nearly 300 of our pieces are being played by quartets around the world. We’re committed to expanding what it means to be a string quartet, and hope to make our work available for audiences and musicians—especially young musicians—all over the world.”

Teaching young musicians hits close to home for Harrington, who was 12 years old when he decided that he wanted to pursue music. And 40 years ago, after hearing an avant-garde piece of music by George Crumb, he knew exactly what he had to do to make his dream a reality.

“Starting [Kronos Quartet] is something that, after hearing ‘Black Angels’ in August of 1973, I had to do,” says Harrington. “I did not have a choice. In order for life to feel at all balanced, I had to start a group, and the group had to be dedicated to the kind of work that would allow us to play a piece like ‘Black Angels.’”

Harrington admits that since then his passion for the group has only grown.

“I decided at a young age, ‘I’m going to be a musician and the world is going to have to get used to it,’” Harrington laughs. “I still feel that way, actually. When I wake up in the morning, I think, ‘I’m going to be a musician and the world is just going to have to deal with me.’ I’m looking forward to the next 40 years with Kronos; I know I’m not going to get them, but I’m looking forward to them anyway!” 

The Kronos Quartet will perform Thomas Newman’s ‘It Got Dark’ at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, and will do a solo performance at 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4, both as part of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Tickets for Saturday’s performance are $32-$52. Tickets for Sunday’s performance are $30-$35. For more information, call 420-5260, or visit cabrillomusic.org. Photo: Jay Blakesberg

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