Okay, here is my unbiased report on the Kronos Young Artists Concert at Carnegie Hall on April 28th.
Carnegie Hall is a cultural icon. It was built in 1890 with money from Andrew Carnegie. Everyone knows the joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall (practice, practice, practice.) The Young Artists Concert was on one of three stages (Carnegie's website says, "Three Great Stages; One Great Hall,) Zankel, the medium sized auditorium that holds about 600. It was about two-thirds full, so I would estimate that there were 400 people in attendance.
Kronos is an icon at least as revered as Carnegie, among devotees of modern classical music. It has been playing together for more than 30 years, but still maintains a youthful persona and vitality. They consistently sell out Krannert when they play locally. More importantly, the quartet members are generous with their time and prestige, commissioning new works by young composers and holding events to promote young performers, like this particular concert.
Four young quartets, average age under 30, were chosen by audition to participate in a week of coaching by Kronos, culminating in the concert on Saturday night. All of the music was very listenable, although I did not like each piece equally.
The others to perform were EnAccord, based in the Netherlands; the Pangea Quartet, based at Stony Brook University; and the Afiara Quartet, which is in residence at San Francisco State University. Each of the quartets had four 1-1/2 hour sessions (a total of six hours a day) with rotating members of Kronos every day last week. They played various pieces and then were assigned by Kronos what to play on Saturday night.
JACK was in the third spot on the program. Its first piece was "Escalay (Waterwheel)" written for Kronos by Hamza El Din, an Egyptian composer who was living in San Francisco at his death in 2006. He is quoted in the program notes as trying to create the sounds and images of the ancient society of Nubia, in southern Egypt. He describes the music system as Afro-Arab, "a bridge, musically and culturally, between Africa and the Middle East." The piece was hauntingly beautiful.
The second piece was a string quartet called "Oculus pro oculo totum orbem terrae caecat (An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.)" It was written for Kronos by Alexandra du Bois, a 26-year-old composer now living in New York City. She wrote the piece in 2003, and my wife and I heard it that year at Ravinia in Chicago, played by Kronos. It is very sad and we took it as a commentary on the war in Iraq, although I have not heard Ms. DuBois state that as behind the piece. There are places in the composition where one gets an overwhelming desire to weap. Ms. DuBois was in the audience and came out and kissed each of the quartet members when they were taking their bows.
The third piece was a light-hearted composition called "Twilight in Turkey," written by Raymond Scott and arranged by Randall Woolf. The program notes state that although Scott never wrote specifically for cartoons, his music is best known for its adaptation to accompany Warner Brothers animation. It has many playful melodies. The arranger, Mr. Woolf, was present and took a bow with JACK. At the end, everyone came out and took a bow.
Afterwards there was a reception, the entrance to which was guarded by a sad sack doorman who didn't have our name on his list. Unfortunately, he was trying to guard an entrance 10 feet wide and while he was poring over the list on one side of the doorway, people were pouring into the reception area on the other side. I wasn't about to be kept out of a reception after traveling all the way to New York City to hear my son play, so I intoned the magic name of my son, who was on the list and while he was carefully checking that name off, I swept my entourage in behind me. Because of the tender sensitivities of my wife, however, I stayed away from the free sandwiches and wine until we were sure there was enough for everyone. (We did stay until the very end and since there were lots of big fat brownies left, I had two big fat brownies.)
All of the Kronos people were there. Here is a shot with one of their violinists, David Harrington and son, Chris. We started talking with a friendly couple about our age, who were telling us about their twins, just younger than Chris, and it turned out to be Fred Kaplan, whose political writing in the on-line magazine, Slate, I have long admired, and his wife, Brooke Gladstone, who is an editor and co-host of NPR's On the Media program. Harrington is a friend of Kaplan and Gladstone, and calls them up whenever Kronos is in town to go get matzoh ball soup at the Carnegie Deli.
I am not qualified, either musically or emotionally, to make any critical judgments of the Young Artists concert. I was impressed, but then I was bound to be impressed. Whether any of these young quartets become the new Kronos remains to be seen, but they certainly got a strong boost to their careers. And I got a strong boost in my parental pride (although it probably didn't need any boosting.)