Concert Review: The Kronos Quartet – Music From 4 Fences at Z Space @ Artaud, 2/24/10

by Marie Carney on February 26, 2010

The Kronos Quartet isn’t really the type of show we normally review.  There are no earplugs required, you’re sitting in seats and most of the audience is over 35.  In fact, it’s not even really a show, it’s more of a concert.  But Spinning Platters wanted to cover what they are doing this Noise Pop week; a West Coast premier of Jon Rose’s Music From 4 Fences along with music written by various musicians more well known in popular culture.  I especially couldn’t miss tonight’s offering: music composed by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame (the other artists showcased this week are listed here).  There were many things I expected from The Kronos Quartet, like professionalism and amazing talent and skill, but it was the surprises that make it an experience I highly recommend.

Upon arrival you are informed that the performance is to be 90 minutes with no intermissions.  Eek!  Off to the restroom!  But the effect this length really has is a rare and wonderful one in our modern world.  An hour and a half in the dark connecting with music.  No text messages, no tweeting “this is so amazing!  #thekronosquartetrocks”.  With all our need for staying connected and immediate gratification it is interesting to note that I did not miss my iPhone for one second.  No tweets are needed for enjoyment of a quality musical performance.  Who knew?

The first surprise came immediately: that their instruments were miked.  Now is the time to admit I did zero research before going to this concert.  I’ve seen more string quartets than the average person, but I hadn’t seen one electrified before.  It added a hard edge to the music and made it sound more focused and precise.  Plus a couple pieces required effects to the instruments, so the electronics were needed and much enjoyed at those points.

They played 10 pieces in total, so I’m not going to go through all of them in detail.  My one complaint is that the program wasn’t more informative.  It detailed the featured piece Music from 4 Fences and one other composer.  And there was a bio on Kronos Quartet and all their staff and donor details.  But no listing of the pieces played.  Maybe because they are changing night to night?  Each piece was announced with brief commentary by 1st violinist David Harrington, but I would have preferred to have had it written down.  Call me old fashioned, but I want to know for sure how many movements I’m sitting through so that I can plot when I’m going to clap.  Honestly though there was one great thing in their program.  The web links section:


 The first two pieces were great.  Pretty melodic for avant garde music.  The first one, Crossfader by Raz Mesinai, was very rhythmic and had some micro-tonal sections, but the overall melody was beautiful, keeping me transfixed.  Then it was a piece by Jim Thirlwell, full of contrasts jumping from dissonance to unison, from rhythmic frenzy to slow aching sections.  I loved both of them, sitting on the edge of my seat barely moving.  So, for me the Terry Riley piece that came next was a little disappointing, a little too textbook for my taste.  Like he was taking the principles of 20th Century composition, and inserting them into folk dances.  Nice rich chords, but not for me.

Next was the Damon Albarn piece, and by the lack of cheers it was apparent that the audience was here for Kronos, not a pop oddity.  His piece was pleasant, but in an evening full of music from great modern composers, it was a tough set to slip in to.  I was surprised at how “Damon” it did sound though.  Snippets of typical Blur-ish melodies slipping in underneath the Kronos thunder of electronic noise.  Quite enjoyable.

There were four more pieces after that.  They all had their merits and some were better than others, but I want to actually get to the showpiece:  4 fences.  As I stated before, I did not do my due diligence before the show, so when 2nd violinist John Sherba gets up from his seat, leaving his violin behind and wheels out an electrified fence I am actually surprised.  After a quick *facepalm* and “I thought 4 fences was a metaphor!” I am on board.  Composer Jon Rose built the four fences for Kronos Quartet and this piece, and really there are no words for something like that.  You could think it’s gimmicky or strange, but in person it is enthralling and different and completely wonderful.  It seemed like each fence had three working wires (though there were five I only noticed the top three played), the top and bottom being mostly distorted and the middle being of a playable note.  The players could either pluck the fences or use a bow on the wire (either striking or bowing) and by moving their hand along the wire they could dampen part of it changing the pitch.  The piece was full of original sounds and was super fun to watch.

Trapped inside 4 Fences

The audience was very gracious with their applause, so we were treated to a final piece composed by Michael Gordon, considerably more rocking than what we’ve heard so far.  I can only assume it was an encore of sorts.  Played with relish it was a nice seal on a wonderful evening.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Vanessa Romero February 26, 2010 at 8:15 am

Although Damon wasn’t there (hahaha) it still sounds quite enjoyable. Party like it’s 2005 indeed.


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