“In The Blue Room with the Kronos Quartet”
This annual tradition has really gained quite the following as part of the Cabrillo Festival. David Harrington, the first violinist and typically the speaker for the group, guessed that it was back in 1978 when they first collaborated with the festival. The San Francisco based group has always maintained strong political views and this concert was no different. They opened with a short piece by Egyptian composer, Islam Chipsy. Zaghlala, loosely translated as meaning blurred vision cause by strong light in the eyes, was full of glissandos and fast passages. Perhaps this choice of piece was a nod to the song and dance man in charge at the moment distracting from the real issues at hand. Friend of the festival, Missy Mazzoli, was up next with a piece named ‘Harp and Altar’ for string quartet and recorded sound. The recording began as low vocal intonations and grew stronger into full words, which began to overpower the sound of the quartet and eventually overtook them in prominence.
Prior collaborator Philip Glass composed Quartet Satz for the Kronos Performing Arts Association project, Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, 25 works by men and 25 by women composed especially for the Kronos Quartet. The score and part are to be presented online for free for any other groups to work up and perform at www.kronosquartet.org. Pencil Sketch, by Yevgeniy Sharlat is also part of this project, although a much different conception. The performers were asked to use wooden pencils with erasers, bouncing them on their instrument strings, or scratching them on the string, or tapping them on the frame, creating unconventional timbre. Many of the audience members leaned forward to see how they were created, which lead to smiles when they saw the pencils. The injection of a little levity was a nice pause before the somber mood to come in the concert.
In Strange Fruit, using the poem by Abel Meeropol (1903-1986) and the arrangement (1939) by Billy Holiday, the mood drastically changed on stage and in the audience. The familiar, and haunting melody brought everyone together to contemplate the racism that existed back then, and still does now: Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood in the root, Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Stacy Garrop’s, ‘Glorious Mahalia’ used a field recordings of an interview with Mahalia Jackson by Louis Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize winning oral historian, with the quartet echoing back the lilt and gait of their voices.
The quartet came back onstage for not one, but two encores: a solemn rendition of Summertime and a piece utilizing the recorded voices of the students of Parkland High School speaking out at the rally they organized. Words like “We were hushed into submission” made the audience visibly uncomfortable or, in some cases, upset. Rising to a literal and emotional crescendo, the recording tuned into yelling and shouting for their cause and the Kronos Quartet took their bow. What a night!