Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9/11 Meditations through the sounds of Kronos Quartet

Chris and I saw our first classical performance at the Herbst Theater on 9/11, entitled "Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Fifth Anniversary of 9/11" written, arranged and performed by the Kronos Quartet. Consisting of 2 violinists, a viola player and a cellist, Kronos have been performing for over 30 years, expanding the range and context of a string quartet. Their work has been featured commercially (in films like Requiem for a Dream, 21 Grams, Heat) as well as the antithesis (one of their first works was Black Angels, a highly unorthodox, Vietnam War-inspired work that featured water glasses, spoken passages, and electronic effects). Over the years, they've worked with hundred of artists & composers ranging from Philip Glass, Wu Man, Thelonious Monk, David Bowie and so forth.

For Monday's performance, the Kronos Quartet played pieces originating from 14 different countries like Turkey, Iran, India (to name a few) by 9 varying composers like Terry Riley, Gustavo Santaolalla, Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky. At times, it was one of the most powerful musical performances we've experienced and we've decided to share his-n-her thoughts on the evening:

Her: The music left me speechless: images of war, violence, sadness and death ran through my mind for most of the evening. I saw children attempting to escape the bombs that were dropping from the sky; I saw the innocent murdered; I saw bloodshed and the devil-incarnate himself. I was amazed by how powerful the music was to conjure up such traumatic images in my head. It was frightening and impressive all at once. It made me realize how much death and destruction fills every second of every day, and how far removed I am from such sorrow. The music filled me with shame, ashamed of the superficiality with which I (and most Americans) surround myself when there are so many suffering around the world. Despite all this pain, Kronos Quartet ended the performance with visual images* of peace and harmony which left me with hope -- perhaps someday we will be surrounded with less violence and left with more love.

Him: Let me preface this by saying that on the day of the performance I was laid up in bed with a fever, the chills and a severe cold; much of my energy during the performance was expended just trying not to cough, sniffle, sneeze or otherwise shatter the "fourth wall" for those around me. Pearl has gone on record saying how powerful and moving the performance was but in my sickly state the weight and emotion of concert was lost on me. I found the "story" very difficult to follow as I was unknowingly fading in and out of consciousness throughout the evening. That being said there were some very beautiful moments and some very unpleasant moments, some very thrilling music and some very bland music.

Here are the thoughts that bounced around in my head during the performance:

Story-based live performances are like operas in a foreign language. Even if you do not understand the language there are other ways the musicians can communicate the story.

War may be chaotic and atonal but good music is not. War is not easily captured using music, but Kronos did an excellent job capturing peace in the second half of the show with a combination of music, lighting and visual projections. They attempted something similar in the first half of the evening but the chosen visuals were not as effective. During the first half of the performance, there was too much reliance on the music to carry the story and it was largely - to my ears - unpleasant music, accompanied by hammers and power tools. Holding a belt sander against a metal plate makes for some fantastic sparks but also makes a terrible racket.

I felt the strongest parts of the show came when the quartet mixed other medias into their music (lighting changes, video projections). I especially liked the use of the prerecorded samples. This could be the start of an interesting new direction in string quartets. In a few years we’ll see the first crossover performers – the Hip Hop String Quartet. My money’s on Mos Def.

*There were no visual images of bloodshed that accompanied the earlier part of the night -- I saw all of that only in my mind

1 comment:

Courtney said...

you guys are hysterical. we miss you and wish we could have shared all these experiences with you. perhaps come july ...