"I could live to be 500, and I don’t think I’d run out of things to do in music." - David Harrington
Unlike rock bands such as the Rolling Stones or The Who, a 50th anniversary isn't unheard of in the world of string quartets. The Emerson Quartet just played its final shows after 47 years; the Juilliard Quartet is still going strong well into its ninth decade (though without any of its original members.)
So, on its surface, Friday night's concert at Carnegie Hall celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Kronos Quartet wasn't really remarkable. Until you stop to think about all that they've accomplished in that half-century: some fifty studio and soundtrack recordings, more than 1,000 commissions of new works, countless performances across six continents (including 43 at Carnegie Hall alone), collaborations with everyone from Steve Reich to Sigur Rós.
"They have changed the way we see string quartets, and altered the course of music history, forever." WNYC host John Schaefer declared during his onstage introduction.
Founded in Seattle in 1973 by first violinist and artistic director David Harrington (whom I interviewed backstage at the Big Ears Festival back in 2015), Kronos added John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) after moving to San Francisco in 1977. All three remain, along with cellist Paul Wiancko, who joined the quartet earlier this year, replacing Sunny Wang. Paul has somehow already made it into an updated version of Sam Green's Kronos documentary "A Thousand Thoughts," an excerpt of which was screened. The film sought to explain Harrington's ceaseless crate digging, his never-ending quest to find the next novel sound, regardless of genre or background.
"We haven't yet found the bulletproof piece of music that can wrap itself around us," he said in a voiceover. "But I think it's possible, and I spend every minute of my waking life trying to find it. That's our job."