Kronos Quartet Celebrates Anniversary With Weekend UCLA Performances

Courtesy of CAP UCLA

UCLA's Royce Hall will feature guest stars Laurie Anderson, Wilco's Nels Cline and Wu Man.

In forty years of performing and recording, the Kronos Quartet has commissioned 830 new pieces of music from artists on five continents representing a vast array of tonal and cultural influences. As part of their belated anniversary celebration (the group’s first performance was in November 1973) they will continue in that unique tradition this weekend at UCLA’s Royce Hall with guest stars Laurie Anderson, Nels Cline of the band Wilco and Wu Man, a Chinese pipa virtuoso.

“I’ve wanted Laurie to write with Kronos for 25 or 30 years and it took a long time for this to come about and I’m so delighted,” quartet founder David Harrington tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When I heard Wu Man she reminded me of the first time I heard Heifetz when I was a kid. There’s this expressive quality that nobody else has. I feel the same way about Nels Cline. I guess I love to work with musicians that redefine their instrument.”

In addition to Harrington, Kronos members include John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt, (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello). Among their collaborators over the years are composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich, as well as such pop artists as David Bowie and Dave Matthews. Their soundtracks include Requiem for a Dream, 21 Grams and the upcoming Noah.

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Friday night guest Cline will premiere his piece, “Views from Here to the Heavens," a 60th birthday gift to the quartet’s longtime sound engineer Scott Fraser, who happens to be a close friend.

“There’s a big drone at the beginning, what I call the birth announcement section,” laughs Cline. “It morphs into this space section which then goes into this heavy groove, seventies, this kind of idea of how shredding can be exciting and not necessarily masturbatory.”

He ends it with a song in which the legendary avant-garde shredder plays what he calls a reverb-laden chimey guitar. “With any luck, it’s something Scott will get a kick out of and get a good feeling from. That’s my big goal,” Cline says. “And of course that it dovetail musically with Kronos.”

Also on Friday night’s bill is Wu Man on the pipa, a four-stringed instrument that is plucked like a banjo. She and the quartet will perform the L.A. premiere of “Orion: China” by Philip Glass.

“I first heard her in 1992,” recalls Harrington. “I could not believe the virtuosity, the presence, the vivid music making that she exhibited. All of a sudden there was this new instrument in my imagination and I realized we’ve got to have some music for Kronos and Wu Man.”

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Saturday night’s performance features the L.A. premiere of “Landfall," a seventy-minute piece by Laurie Anderson using Hurricane Sandy as a backdrop. An eclectic composition that had its world premiere at the University of Maryland last February, “Landfall” incorporates a variety of styles including chamber music, hip-hop and pre-recorded tracks featuring electronic sound beds, scratch beats and disembodied radio voices as the storm makes landfall.

Anderson’s late husband Lou Reed attended some of the rehearsals as well as the premiere, but plans to record the piece in October were put on hold when he died of liver disease.

“I’m sure that Landfall is very special for Laurie because of some of the input that Lou had into the piece,” says Harrington. “We really appreciated his thoughts and comments. It was great having him there. And of course one can only imagine the extent of the tragedy that she’s been experiencing.”

Harrington never thought Kronos would last more than a week when they first got together. They were so broke that their first commission to Ken Benshoof was paid off with a bag of donuts and a cup of coffee for his composition “Traveling Music."

“All of a sudden you look back and it’s been forty years,” Harrington sighs. “Things are coming together in a really wonderful way right now. I’m pleased that we have each of those forty years of experience.”

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