Kronos Quartet

(Concert Hall)


What a night. What a buzz. The Concert Hall was crowded, not packed. It rang with clamour for an ensemble that warrants acclaim for its longevity and its contribution to new music, as well as for the vibrant excellence of its programming, playing and all round performance.

Kronos Quartet started out back in 1973 as the enfants terribles of string quartets. Museum music Beethoven et al.- have never graced their stage, then or now. From his teens, David Harrington got hooked on playing NEW music and, lucky man, follows his dream and passion today by having commissioned 500 pieces from established and new composers.

If your love is the classics or your music diet doesn?t extend beyond Bach, then Kronos is NOT for you; though you could be tempted by a suite of beautiful Bollywood love songs from Rahul Dev Burman, the only not-living composer on the programme (hows that for political correctness, Don Watson?)

This attractive music showcased the wonderful playing of Hank Dutt (viola) and Jennifer Culp (cello). It also came with engaging sound effects and the precise tapping of a tabla.

Hows that? you ask, this is supposed to be a string quartet!

Kronos, like their namesake, the Titan who deposed his father as ruler of the world, breaks all the rules. They perform with a full-on light show, amplification and with backing tapes, in the case of Burmans music, arranged from his movie scores since his death 10 years ago. What would the masters mutter?

Well, let them tut tut! Kronos has marked the bench and shown the way. They have given the healthy student attendance from the Conservatorium and QUT (where were the UQ students?), who accessed the concert for near-movie-ticket price, new music for a new millennium. We cant live on a diet of stale stuff for ever.

Kronos programme delivered a living music concert, for once, for Musica Viva.

The oldest is Peter Sculthorpe (born 1929) whose Jabiru Dreaming from 1990 opened the concert with quotes from and references to Australian sights and sounds and indigenous chant.

The youngest is Alexandra du Bois (born 1981) whose an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind is a deeply felt lament on the folly of war written in 2003 as American (and others) prepared to invade Iraq.

Willem Jeths (born 1959) Intus Trepidare (Trembling from Within) comes from 2003 and leaves us listening to a string quartet that is turned upside down , just like our world. The cello plays at the top of the score and the first violin takes its G string down as low as it can go.

Steve Reichs has written two quartets for Kronos (as has Sculthorpe). These performers of new music gave a powerful reading of the minimalists Triple Quartet 1999 a driving three movement piece that needs to be supported by a pre-recorded tape that supplies the other eight players.

Kronos was generous with their encores. First an offering from Icelandic band Sigur Ros, that was some of the most interesting music of the night, followed by the screaming violins of David Harrington and John Sherba as we got a full-on light show and an electric rendition of a well known anthem as distorted by Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969.

How much and how little has changed in our world.

— John Colwill
(Performance seen: Tue 8th March 2005)