Monday, January 31, 2005

An Evening with the Kronos Quartet

Michelle and I went to check out the Kronos Quartet's free concert at the Goldstein auditorium last night. I had never really listened to the quartet before, but I had heard a lot of good things about them. This, along with my general apathy towards non-improvised music, made the avant garde music snob in me somewhat skeptical. Overall, I have to say that I was impressed. The best piece by far was the world premiere of Marc Mellits' string quartet number 2. It was one of the most amazing things I've heard in a while. The only way I can describe the piece is to imagine a chamber ensemble playing the music of an iconic rock and roll band, only instead making the music sound lame, they actually make it sound even cooler than when it was originally performed by the rock and roll band. I don't know if that was a testament to the composer, the ensemble, or both. As an added bonus, the composer himself, who happens to reside in the Syracuse area when he's not in Transylvania (I'm not making this up), came up and took a bow.

Everything else on the program was interesting and nothing if not eclectic (Indian movie music, Ethiopian saxophone music, etc.) The only other piece that really caught my attention was a work called Oasis by the Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, who is apparently a frequent collaborator with the quartet. Supposedly, her music is a blend of traditional Azerbaijani music and 20th century European classical forms. With the exception of some piped in effects, Oasis sounded pretty much like straight ahead 20th century classical music. My ears were never good at picking out structural elements of music and the chamber music side of my brain is so atrophied that I don't know if this piece really was written using a twelve tone system or any of those other "wacky" compositional structures, but I was definitely getting that kind of vibe from it and found it very appealing.

As for the other pieces, I was kind of disappointed by "One Earth, One People, One Love" from Terry Riley's Sun Rings. I generally dig anything minimalist, but this piece didn't really embody the hypnotic effect that I've always associated with great minimalist music. The only other piece worth noting was a work called "Potassium" by Michael Gordon. It made use of a lot of electronics, which I had never really heard before in a string quartet. It came off very well, I thought, plus the tune had a really cool minimalist/rock kind of groove. It was a very downtown New York kind of piece.

The group ended the evening with two encores, the second of which was a take of Hendrix's famous rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock. It was probably the only rendition of the tune that has ever caused Jimi and Francis Scott Key to turn in their graves simultaneously. The quartet either wanted to give the college kids something to remember the concert by, or they wanted to make absolutely sure that there wouldn't be a third encore. They were successful on both counts.


regelemarcel said...

Hi, I just found your post, and I must say you really made my night! I wrote the first piece you mentioned, String Quartet No. 2. I am very glad you enjoyed my music that night! My ensemble is playing a concert of my music in march, at le moyne college. if you send me an email, i will make sure you get a pair of tickets, if you want. Really, you made my night....

regelemarcel said...

hey there...i have lost your email address. if you want to come to the concert thursday at le moyne, email me. thanks!