If you have seen “Requiem for a Dream,” then you have heard the Kronos Quartet. The haunting, intense soundtrack from the acclaimed Darren Aronofsky film was performed by this innovative string quartet. Now they are coming to UCSB.
Since its inception in 1973, the Kronos Quartet has thrived on the diet of experimental works and unparalleled diversity in its repertoire. As a leading advocate for continual progression in the string quartet genre, the Kronos Quartet, from its earliest days, has commissioned pieces from the world’s most innovative composers. To date, more than 450 pieces have been written or arranged for the Quartet.
Kronos Quartet Violist Hank Dutt recently spoke with Artsweek’s Erin James.
EJ:The Kronos Quartet has received a great deal of attention since its work on the soundtrack for “Requiem for a Dream.” How did that collaboration come about?
HD:That was such an exciting project to be involved with. Darren Aronofsky had come to one of our concerts and he contacted us. He had already done “Pi” at that point; I had already seen it and I thought it was fantastic – very innovative. It sort of snowballed [from there].
What was it like working with Aronofsky?
Darren is a very hands-on guy; he is involved in everything. A lot of directors leave it up to their musical directors to make it happen, but [Aronofsky] was involved in every step of the recording process, looking at every take and saying “That’s right or that’s not right.” In that sense it was terrific to work with him because we were involved in the interpretation process and the changing of cues to make [the music] sound its best. It was really exciting, and such a strong film.
All the pieces you will perform at UCSB are either written or arranged for the Kronos Quartet. Which piece do you find the most interesting? Which is the most challenging?
[The pieces] are all so different and I think that’s the most interesting thing about them. There is Steve Reich who, in 1999, wrote the triple quartet for us. We are playing with two prerecorded tapes of ourselves [performing], so the sound of the quartet is more than just a single quartet. [Reich] is so rhythmic and has such exciting music. But contrasting that is [Charles] Mingus’ piece, which is so beautiful – very lyric … such nuance and great phrasing. And the Indian work – [Rahul] Dev Burman is incredible. It is Indian film music from Bollywood. All the works are challenging in different ways.
How do you select the pieces you play?
We like to vary the program quite a bit. I find it very boring to hear a program of all one type of music or one composer; it’s an educational experience, but I find it very difficult. I want to hear a lot of different styles in a program. That gets me excited about what music is about [and] what the possibilities are.
Kronos Quartet has a grueling performance schedule, touring around the world for 22 weeks a year. Is it difficult to stay motivated?
I find it exciting. One year we spent nine months on the road and I felt like I had no home. And also you feel like you don’t have a family life at all. Up ’til that point we took every gig that was offered. That year we decided we didn’t have to do that anymore; we could set our parameters. So now we spend about five months on the road and try not to be gone for more than two weeks at a time.
The ensemble travels extensively throughout the world. Does that affect the music that you play?
Definitely. Just to see and hear different cultures and what people are offering is so fascinating. It opens your mind and exposes you to what different music there is in the world. … It is terrific to have all these different influences and yet move from one to the other.
Why do you feel the Quartet appeals to such a wide audience?
I’m always surprised. I think it is encouraging to see that people enjoy us so much. Perhaps it is because we are taking an old form of music, the traditional string quartet, and making something new out of it. The string quartet has lasted; it is a beautiful form of music. That is the reason I play in a string quartet, because the viola part is something so special. … I love that sound of the viola as a middle voice in a quartet.
The Kronos Performing Arts Association has an impressive educational outreach program for school children. What is the philosophy behind that?
With the cuts in public school programs, one of the first things to go is the arts. We feel very strongly that it is great to expose young kids to music. If they really want to study they need to be exposed to spark an interest. So we want to give that back, to keep it alive for the kids.
What do you hope that the primarily college-age audience gets out of your UCSB performance?
For myself, there are certain concerts that I look back on that I have attended or I have been in, that have been life-changing. … It could be just where I am at the time in my mind or where I am in my life. I’m just hoping that our concerts become an event in which people can listen to certain music with an open mind and get the most out of it.