Thursday, January 27, 2005



Should it be notable that American artists apologise for the re-election of Bush? Certainly, that’s happened at a number of recent concerts. It happened again on Saturday night at the Barbican.

“All of our musician friends were dismayed by the election in November. And, what about that inauguration? Makes you wanna go back to the 60s: to Woodstock” At which point, the Kronos Quartet launched into a Hendrix fuelled version of the “Star Spangled Banner”. “They play Hendrix, y'know” I’d told my fellow concertgoer all night. Sure enough they did as the first encore. For the second, Kronos played Bollywood film music. Go figure.

But, hey. This is Kronos and they could play just about anything they want. I'm talking ability, audience and chutzpah. Made their name playing Twentieth Century icons such as Bartok, linked with minimalists like Steve Reich, now the quartet commissions its own pieces by contemporary composers. The piece by Meredith Monk “Stringsongs” was a premiere on Saturday. It’s a four movement piece of lyrical minimalism that stood out from the rest in form, content and texture.

Opening the concert was Michael Gordon’s “Potassium”, a collection of bent notes, discordant phrases, rather irritating reverb (which made the music seem as though it came from a public toilet), feedback and looping. The programme notes quote Gordon as saying he knew nothing about the element Potassium, which rather begs the question why name a piece that?

“Oasis” by Azeri composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh literally dripped off stage, with a backing track of water drops.

After the Monk highlight came Jeths’ “Intus Trepidare (Trembling From Within)” (UK premiere) tonally beautiful, delicately played.

Clint Mansell’s “Requiem for a Dream Suite”, music from the film left me a little underwhelmed, a bit limp I though, but it was well received by the audience. Mansell, by the way, was the man behind hip-hop deconstructivsts Pop Will Eat Itself. Before the encores, but like the first of those, politics entered the stage in Alexandra du Bois’ “String Quartet: Oculus Pro Oculo Totum Orbem Terrae Caecat (“an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”)”, written just prior to the Iraqi invasion.

There’s no faulting the playing. Kronos are supremely confident playing music which would otherwise challenge the average string quartet. The encores in themselves were worth the trip. That Kronos can fill the large Barbican hall is both impressive and reassuring. That they apologised for Bush's election...Well, there's 50 million odd who need to apologise for voting for him. Wonder how many of them are Kronos fans?

:: Posted by pete @ 13:05