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Coffee Conversation: Kronos Quartet's David Harrington

David Harrington, Big Ears FestivalFor anyone who cares at all about the living art of music, there is no more vital institution than the Kronos Quartet. Since their founding 41 years ago, this indefatigable quartet has commissioned more than 850 works and has performed more than 8,000 concerts around the globe. 

Kronos is in NYC this week for a pair of shows, including Mary Koyoumdjian's Silent Cranes at Roulette tomorrow (5/12) - part of their Under 30 project - and a collaboration with the students of Face the Music - including a world premiere triple quartet by Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen - at the Queens New Music Festival on Wednesday (5/13).

Somewhere in between the Kronos Quartet's seven performances at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville back in March, I had the chance to grab founder and artistic director David Harrington to talk a bit about Kronos' legacy, as well as some of the exciting things on the horizon. Chief among these is their ambitious Fifty for the Future project for Carnegie Hall, in which they will commission no fewer than fifty new works over the next five seasons. Excerpts from our conversation below.

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Sonatas from the Soviet Era at SubCulture

by Christina Klessig

Ignat Solzhenitsyn
Last week, pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn and violist Hsin-Yun Huang presented an intimate concert at Subculture entitled “Sonatas from the Soviet Era.” Solzhenitsyn, the son of Nobel Prize winning dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, began with Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.8 in B-flat major. Prokofiev wrote this sonata during the genocide hell that the Soviet Union was experiencing towards the end of World War II, and reflects the conflicting emotions an artist goes through during times of war. The finale burst with anxiety and unstoppable motion; the final chord ‘succumbing to an inevitable release from inner torment.’

Following was Shostakovich's Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147. Huang illuminated this valedictory work, which Shostakovich completed five days before his death. Huang treated every movement as a spiritual contemplation that sped up when it realized it needed to come back to reality’s version of time - much as Shostakovich must have been experiencing at the time. Huang and Solzhenitsyn's meticulous craftsmanship was successful at honoring Shostakovich's end of days.

Duke @116

10071-DEL-ICON-flatDuke Ellington, who was born this day in 1899, was by any measure the greatest composer this country has ever produced. Over a career that spanned more than half of a century, Ellington composed more than 1,000 works, many of which belonged more in concert halls than jazz clubs (which is where they ended up; see below.) In an era when jazz wasn't considered "real" music, Ellington, through his charm and sheer productivtity, proved otherwise. (Ellington was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1965 but no award was given; he was posthumously awarded a special Pulitzer in 1999.)

Since the day I launched this site, I've had a quote from Duke at the top of the page which sums up our general approach: "There are two kinds of music: good music...and the other kind." Eight years on, I believe that more than ever. 

In case some of you out there might still need convincing, check our this concert by the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 1958. As good as it gets. 

Australian Chamber Orchestra at Zankel Hall

Australian Chamber OrchestraThe chamber orchestra is a unique musical animal, combining the fleetness of a string quartet with the power of a full symphony orchestra. Once the standard performance ensemble of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the chamber orchestra has experienced a renaissance e over the past few decades, courtesy of crack bands like the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and New York's own Orchestra of St. Luke's

Add to that list the Australian Chamber Orchestra, who performed Sunday afternoon at Carnegie's Zankel Hall. Regarded as one of Australia's leading ensembles since it was founded 40 years ago, the ACO has been led for the past 25 years by lead violinist and artistic director Richard Tognetti, who performs with the buoyant enthusiasm of someone half his age.

The ACO began with Tognetti's own string arrangement of Prokofiev's piano cycle Visions fugitives, Op. 22. Performing while standing, the ACO, dressed stylishly in black, exuded energy and confidence in this music, filled with Russian fire. 

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