In more than 35 years and 45 recordings, the Kronos Quartet has seemingly explored every conceivable musical direction, from the jazz of Thelonius Monk and Bill Evans, through collaborations with composers Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass, to recent excursions into the music of Africa, India, Latin America and the Middle East. With an attitude and fashion sense more resembling an art-rock band than stuffy, tuxedoed classical performers, Kronos established the model for many new-music groups that have followed in its wake. Its many commissions have sparked the creation of hundreds of new chamber works. The quartet's recordings invite collaborators from around the world and across genres. While more conservative classical groups face aging audiences and dwindling relevance, Kronos continues to cultivate ardent new listeners.
"I've never wanted our music to be narrow or to feel self-satisfied," explains Kronos founder and violinist David Harrington. Now a grandfather, his own journey began in Portland, where he was born and to which he delights in returning often. "There's something special about Portland," he says. "The audience at Reed is just fantastic. I just love that city."
Kronos' concert at Reed College, presented by Friends of Chamber Music, focuses on the dazzling music of California's Terry Riley, women's music by expatriate Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and Polish composer Hanna Kulenty, and modern arrangements of traditional Greek and Jewish tunes. Harrington says none of the pieces have been played here, but the quartet is already looking beyond; its newest project, the multifaceted A Chinese Home, which I saw last week in Palo Alto, includes substantial film and theatrical elements. Kronos continues to show that the key to artistic vitality is always keeping ears and minds open to new experiences.
"Oh, and if you know of any music I should hear," Harrington said at the end of our interview, notwithstanding the fact that he's besieged daily by recordings from composers, "please send it along."
Kronos Quartet performs at 7:30 pm Monday, Feb. 1. Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., 224-9842, focm.org. $27–$40.