Seven p.m. Thursday night, the 19th of November, Campbell Hall. It was dark and cold outside of the venue, but inside a crowd of 800 people buzzed. After one look around the hall with its plush velvet seats and nifty fold out desks, a couple things stuck out. One, there were a lot of old people that probably graduated from college maybe 40 years ago. Two, there were a lot of young people that were only there for the sake of their Music 15: Music Appreciation grade. Third, they were selling Crushcakes cupcakes. (Score).
Now, what could possibly bring these two drastically different demographics to the same place at the same time?
Ah, of course. This was a classical concert.
Actually, scratch that. This was not just a run-of-the-mill classical concert. This was a Kronos Quartet concert.
The Kronos Quartet, although unheard of by a vast majority of the younger generation, is actually kind of a big deal. Based in San Francisco, the quartet is composed of David Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola and Sunny Yang on cello. Some members have changed, but the string quartet has nevertheless been going strong since 1973. And the reason why they are such a big deal is because in those past 40 years, almost 800 works have been written for them by a smorgasbord of composers, including John Adams, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. If none of these names are familiar, then perhaps it should also be mentioned that the Kronos Quartet has performed live with David Bowie, Björk and Paul frickin’ McCartney.
With accolades ranging from over 1.5 million records sold to touring all over the world, the Kronos Quartet’s music is clearly exceptional. It is experimental. It has covered almost every genre you can think of, including Mexican folk.
And on Thursday night, it put about a quarter of the audience to sleep.
To be fair, all of the attendees caught sleeping were Music 15 students who were clearly not appreciating the music as much as they were assigned to. However, for those that did appreciate it, what those pesky students slept through was something fantastic.
When the Quartet first came on stage to perform for the filled Campbell Hall, they appeared to be simply your average string virtuosos. Whatever stage presence could be there apparently failed to show up on time. Still, as the lights dimmed and they began to play, the quartet filled Campbell Hall with heavenly sounds.
They played with utmost grace. Even as their pieces became more serious and more intricate, the quartet kept up with every note. Their bodies moved with every note, too, as if they were possessed by the music and every bit of its structure.
What was also electrifying about the performance was the use of unconventional sounds. During some songs, a crackle was played from the speaker, or a vocal melody that was impossible to understand. Not to mention the other “instruments.”
“They took out an instrument that looked like an angler fish,” said Sonia, a second year English major. “It looked like a box with a string-light thing that made high frequency sounds.”
Yes, the out-of-the-norm instruments sounded strange and somewhat startling. But the amazing thing about the Kronos Quartet was that they pulled it all off and made them sound oddly in harmony with their traditional string instruments.
So when it came to their finale, a performance of “Silent Cranes,” the crowd was moved. “Silent Cranes” is about the Armenian Genocide of the early 1900s. As the quartet fervently worked at their strings, a captivating visual of pictures from the Genocide played along, presenting a narrative. A woman’s voice filled the hall and told her story of living through the terrifying tragedy of witnessing the murders of 15 of her family members in one night.
After the two-hour concert completed and the Quartet stood up and bowed, those still awake passionately applauded. Those who were asleep quickly woke up and followed suit.
For both the young and the old, the Kronos Quartet is a unique group of musicians to take note of.