The Kronos Quartet began its Fall 2010 touring season in its hometown San Francisco, by premiering work by a young Iranian composer, along with a selection of new and recent compositions written in reaction to social and political turmoil. Also on the program, an iconic piece about the Vietnam War era which the ensemble's founder says inspired the formation of the group.
The Kronos Quartet kicked off its tour at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Arts Center, with the world premiere of Iranian composer Sahba Aminikia's mournful new piece, "Threnody for Those who Remain," which chronicles his father's death, as well as the Iranians' protest against last summer's contested presidential election.
Aminikia, a music composition student at San Francisco Conservatory, was pleasantly shocked to receive his first major commission. But the occasion was bittersweet.
"Exactly the day after I sent them a copy, [David Harrington] contacted me," said Aminikia. "And this was exactly when my father had died in Iran, in a car accident. I went to Iran, and for three months, I recorded sounds in every place I went, not necessarily complex or advanced places, but anywhere, like the bazar or the street, or if I heard things on the radio which sounded funny to me, I recorded all of these."
David Harrington, Kronos' founder and musical director, says he is always looking for things the audience probably has not heard before.
"I am always looking for the next piece, the next wonderful experience," said Harrington. "I want people who write for Kronos to turn the page, to make a work that is new to them, new to us, new to the rest of the world. And for me, Sahba [Aminikia] could do that."
During the past 35 years, Kronos has commissioned more than 600 new pieces, from such well-known composers as Philip Glass and Terry Riley, but also from many new composers, discovered by the ensemble.
"I like to be the first one to hear a piece of music," noted Harrington. "I like the challenge, and it's nerve-racking. You wonder can I get through it, can we get through it? What's it going to be? I won't say I'm addicted to this, but maybe it is an addiction. You know, there is a high that happens."
In its new concert, Kronos presents a restaging of George Crumb's iconic "Black Angels," an essential piece in the ensemble's history, returning after 35 years.
"I don't think there would be a new quartet by Sahba [Aminikia] if there wasn't 'Black Angels.' When I first heard it in 1973 it was alarming, it was scary. I had been searching for something for a long time, and I didn't know if it even existed," added Harrington.
Kronos performs these pieces during its world tour starting in Basel, Switzerland, on November 10, followed by stops in Poland, Germany, France, Portugal and Canada throughout this winter.