Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A string quartet formed in Seattle in 1974 by violinist David Harrington (b 9 September 1949, Portland OR). Played at Mills College in Berkeley CA; Hank Dutt joined '77 on viola (b 4 November 1952, Muscatine IA), violinist John Sherba (b 10 December 1954, Milwaukee), cellist Joan Jeanrenaud (b 25 January 1956, Memphis) '78. They worked on or contributed to recordings by Warren Benson and Dane Rudhyar (on CRI), David Grisman (on WEA); their one first recording was cassette-only Kronos Quartet on Sounds Wonderful including the Quartet no. 8 by Peter Sculthorpe (b 29 April 1929, Launceton, Tasmania). In Formation '82 on Reference Recordings flaunted their unorthodox stance with titles such as Alan Dorsey's 'Whatever Happened To The Hoodoo Meat Bucket' and John Whitney's 'Junk Food Blues'. Monk Suite '85 with Ron Carter and Music Of Bill Evans '86 with Eddie Gomez and Jim Hall were produced for Landmark by Orrin Keepnews; Cadenza On The Night Plain on Gramavision compiled the quartet music of Terry Riley including his 'G Song', expanded from his work on film Le Secret de la Vie '73.

They signed to Elektra Nonesuch: Kronos Quartet '86 reprised the Sculthorpe quartet plus works by Philip Glass, Aulis Sallinen (b 9 April 1935, Salmi, Finland; d 10 August 1997, Mexico City), Conlon Nancarrow (b 27 October 1912, Texarkana AR) and Jimi Hendrix. White Man Sleeps '87 included two parts of that string quartet by Kevin Volans (see his entry) plus Bartók's String Quartet no. 3, Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman', pieces by Charles Ives ('Scherzo: Holding Your Own'), other pieces. Winter Was Hard '88 included the title composition by Sallinen, also Alfred Schnitke's third quartet, Samuel Barber's Adagio, Anton Webern's Six Bagatelles, Arvo Pärt's Fratres, plus Riley, John Zorn, John Lurie, Astor Piazzolla. Two-CD Salome Dances For Peace by Riley was nominated for a Grammy; Steve Reich's Different Trains won a Grammy; Black Angels '90 included George Crumb's title piece, Shostakovich's eighth quartet, pieces by Thomas Tallis (d 1585), Istvan Marta (b 1952, Budapest) and Ives, the last two interpolated with archive voices; Pieces Of Africa '92 had eight pieces by African composers commissioned by the Kronos including the complete version of 'White Man Sleeps', augmented by voices and soloists including Foday Musa Suso on kora. Meanwhile three CD and cassette 'singles' '91 offered budget-priced pieces by Piazzolla (with the composer on bandoneon), Volans and Witold Lutoslawski (b 25 January 1913, Warsaw; d there 7 February 1994).

More CDs: Short Stories '93 had nine pieces by Henry Cowell, John Zorn, Willie Dixon etc; At The Grave Of Richard Wagner '93 had Liszt, Webern, Berg; Night Prayers '94 included Sofia Gubaidulina's fourth string quartet, pieces by Osvaldo Golijov (b 1960) etc; Howl USA '96 was followed by Golijov's The Dreams And Prayers Of Isaac The Blind '97. Released 1985-1995 was a compilation. They have widened the audience for the string quartet and opened audiences' ears, which is always risky: live concerts of new music may contain gems like John Adams's John's Book Of Alleged Dances, but also Tan Dun's overlong Ghost Opera, described by one critic as 'a theatrical jumble of surpassing silliness'. The risk is worth it and part of the fun. Early Music '97 was their first album not concentrating on contemporary music, spanning four centuries from Hildegarde von Bingen to John Cage, and including a piece by John David Lamb, a retired schoolteacher in Seattle who's been composing all his life. Various Kronos CDs include pieces by Kenneth Benshoof (b 1933), and there may be more that is unreleased; there should be a Benshoof CD. But a catalog of string quartet music that is such a jumble is also part of the fun.