Hard to believe, but the ever daring and innovative Kronos Quartet turns 30 years old next season. In honor of the milestone, the group has announced the “Kronos: Under 30 Project,” a commissioning and composer-in-residence program for composers who came of age along with the ensemble.
“People have been asking me what’s it like to have done Kronos for 30 years,” founder David Harrington says. “I don’t have any idea. What is 30 years? The only way I can think of it is to look at a 30-year-old person and step outside of what we’ve been doing. Contact people that are the ensemble’s age or younger and see what kind of music might be happening.”
In collaboration with the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College and the American Music Center, the program will support the creation of new work by young artists while at the same time introducing the quartet to the new musical voices of the next generation.
In line with the quartet’s “go-anywhere-fearlessly” reputation, Harrington says he’s free of expectations about what kind of composer will be selected. “What I’m always looking for, and have been since 1973, is for individual voices where the viewpoint and the resultant music comes from a distinctive personality and a distinctive outlook on the world and the world of music.” And Harrington has no conceits about what defines or qualifies a composer. In addition to those with formal conservatory training, “there could be composers from pop groups, alternative groups of various kinds, film composers that we hadn’t been in touch with yet. Who knows, and it could come from any part of the world. That’s what’s exciting to me.”
Working with the under-30 set, though, is really no stretch for the group. Kronos collaborated with Mexican avant-garde rockers Café Tacuba on it’s recently released disk Nuevo and has joined forces with the ambient strains of Iceland’s much-hyped Sigur Rós. “I think that’s part of the inspiration, you know. You just don’t know where the next incredible musical experience might come from,” Harrington points out. “I expect that whoever [the Under 30 composer] might be is going to bring a new background, a new kind of listening, maybe a whole new vocabulary to our rehearsals and I look forward to that. I think that’s the way things progress in the world of music.”
And in Harrington’s view, there’s a huge pool of musical possibilities out there and we’ve only just touched the surface. “There are so many things that haven’t been done in music. Some people talk about how everything has been done. Well, I think hardly anything has been done, so there are all kinds of things to do and I guess my belief remains that the greatest piece of music is yet to be heard, yet to be played, yet to be written. I’d like to be there whenever that might happen, but that’s the challenge for all of us.”
For the last 30 years, Kronos has set a remarkable precedent as to what an ensemble working in new music can accomplish in pursuit of great musical experiences. Their recording and commissioning record is inspiring to many up-and-coming ensembles and composers, though often seemingly out of reach. Even in today’s environment, Harrington thinks it’s still possible to have the kind of career they have, but he also reminds those who seek to emulate them of the amount of work and patience it takes. “To take the manuscript from the composer and put into a rehearsal and bring the composer there, to make a new piece happen with a new vocabulary in front of an audience that’s never heard this music, and just to make the experience really happen, it takes so many different elements.”
Kronos has been bringing those elements together for composers and audiences since 1973, when Harrington first heard George Crumb‘s Black Angels on the radio, after midnight with the volume up, and knew what he wanted musically out of life. “I loved it. It changed my whole life. That’s the kind of music I wanted to play and that I’m looking for. I really think that’s the kind of music people want to write and audiences want to be close to, music that can kind of make us look at our whole existence in a refreshed newly energized way that might lead us somewhere special.”