Kronos opens doors to brave new worlds

Ensemble performing with Afghan trio at Chan Centre

- Kronos Quartet with Homayun Sakhi Trio, Chan Shun Concert Hall at UBC's Chan Centre, Saturday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. Concert presented in collaboration with the Aga Khan Music Initiative, a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

SAN Francisco's adventurous Kronos Quartet has spent more than three decades exploring sounds and redefining what a new music/ contemporary classical music ensemble should sound like.

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Founded by violinist David Harrington in Seattle in 1973 the group has long been known for its unique take on music and each year commissions new works to add to an everexpanding repertoire.

Tackling Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" was probably their first salvo against the notion that classical music had to be approached in a certain way. Since then they've made a career of pushing the conceptual envelope. Right now somebody, somewhere in the world is writing something new specially for the group.

"It's up to 750 pieces now," says Harrington. "I'm totally delighted a lot of ideas are happening right now. We definitely focus on Kronos so what we do is an extension of the four of us - John, Hank, Jeff and myself. Frequently we add guest artists and get into all kinds of adventures that way."

Over the years Kronos has worked in different contexts and genres performing music from many parts of the world. The list of composers and performers they have collaborated with is really a who's who of musicians working in the 21st century and includes Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Björk, Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks and Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle to name just a few.

Minimalist composer Terry Riley has written 25 pieces for Kronos since 1980 and is currently working on his next piece for the group.

The commission process starts with Harrington who keeps all options open as to who gets involved. "First of all there has to be something that totally magnetizes me," he says. "For me, there aren't fences to different countries, different kinds of music, different styles or even different kinds of instruments. I hear music as a continuum and something that is fluid - basically a set of variations that people create all over the world. There's a lot of variety."

Central Asia has been an area of particular interest to Harrington for quite some time with several composers and musical ensembles involved in ongoing projects with Kronos. Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh began writing for the group in the early '90s and the 2005 album, Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, is completely devoted to her music.

Other musicians they've worked with from the region include Uzbek composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, Azerbaijani father and daughter singers Alim and Fargana Qasimov and Afghan rubâb player Homayun Sakhi. The latter musician's trio will perform with Kronos at Chan Centre on Nov. 5.

Working with musicians and composers from non-Western cultures usually requires combining written and improvised material in the same piece. "We definitely value and rely on the invention of musical notation," says Harrington. "What's interesting is there are a lot of different forms of musical notation and it's kind of like we use road maps to get where we're going.

"In the case of Homayun Sakhi for example, the piece he wrote for Kronos, "Rangin Kaman (Rainbow)," is incredibly detailed in the way it was imagined and the way it was composed. There are elements of improvisation in the piece and Homayun and all of us on stage actually engage in that kind of conversational improvisation from time to time and then the piece goes back to a very detailed form that Homayun has given it."

The performance at UBC has been put together in conjunction with the Aga Khan Music Initiative, a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture focusing on the music of Central Asia. Smithsonian Folkways has been releasing a series of recordings as part of the project including Vol. 8 Rainbow featuring the Kronos Quartet performing with the Homayun Sakhi Trio and the Alim Qasimov Ensemble.

"It was the Aga Khan Trust for Culture that approached us," says Harrington. "I was aware of the albums they had released on the Smithsonian label and it just seemed like a natural relationship that we would have with them in terms of the detail and the thoroughness that they put into everything they do. It's an amazing organization. We worked with Ted Levin back in the 1980s when he was a tour manager and translator for the Throat Singers of Tuva. He works closely with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in collaboration with Fairouz Nishanova. Their hearts are in the music and they know what it takes to make the music happen so it's a really felicitous relationship."

A free panel discussion, Sounds of Freedom: The Revival of Music in Afghanistan, will take place at UBC on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. For more information on the event leading up to the concert visit www.chancentre.com/whats-on/sounds-freedomrevival-music-afghanistan.

jgoodman@nsnews.com

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