Kronos Quartet: 25 Years
It’s been twelve years since this was released, but as we pull further away from the 20th century, we may consider just what the last few decades in music would have been without the Kronos Quartet. Beyond a whole generation of black-leather-clad chamber musicians owing their hipness to them, Kronos invented the contemporary string quartet almost by itself. Marketing can’t accomplish that, but aggressive commissioning and relentless imagination can. Starting in 1973 with no money, they paid Ken Benshoof a bag of doughnuts for their first piece, and have been off to the races ever since (they’ve since made it up to him). A John Adams string quartet? Sure. Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, Osvaldo Golijov? You bet. Terry Riley, after his groundbreaking minimalist yawp In C, had practically given up writing music, but Kronos wouldn’t take No for an answer. We now have Terry Riley string quartets.
There are ten CDs in this boxed set, and each one yields delight and surprise. The wide variety of musical expression may surprise: going from Crumb to Piazzolla to Feldman can spin you around. But the fiery wizardry Kronos brings to each piece is no surprise; their playing is an utter delight. Well into the next century, that bag of doughnuts is looking pretty good.