Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Kronos raise the bar in every way

6 March 2023

Kronos Quartet embrace and elevate diversity with a concert showcasing their generous spirit and musical mastery, writes Emma Jayakumar.

Kronos Quartet
Perth Concert Hall, 4 March 2023

Kronos Quartet reliably bring something refreshingly different to this concert. Their frequent touring and enormous back catalogue of recording champions new music and diverse voices to boot, including – and hurrah – so many women composers.

Hearing them live is an enormous privilege, a major coup for Perth Festival and a welcome addition to the Perth music scene.

Kudos also to the American quartet for bringing the goods in this concert when it comes to female composers and composers from diverse backgrounds, including Noongar artist Maatakitj (Dr Clint Bracknell). Commissioned by the festival, his evocative and distinctive work Bindari receives its world premiere.

Noongar artist Maatakitj sits on a stage surrounded by four musicians playing stringed instruments. In front of them are Noongar dancers painted in traditional stripes and markings. This is Kronos Quartet's concert at Perth Festival, performing the world premiere of Bindari.
Maatakitj and Noongar dancers join Kronos Quartet for the world premiere of ‘Bindari’. Photo: Cam Campbell

It’s delightful to witness members of Kronos clearly holding Maatakitj in such high esteem. The piece charms the audience as well, strongly representing Noongar song and language as Maatakitj joins them onstage to sing in a warm and often guttural baritone. Also featured is fellow Noongar actor and dancer Rubeun Yorkshire, who confidently leads a troupe of dancers joining us in the audience.

In a generous and collegial mentorship move, Kronos perform with three student quartets from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, the University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Youth Orchestra. They join Kronos for Phillip Glass’s mesmerising Quartet Satz with skill and nuance.

Featured this evening are three pieces of the innovative Kronos collaborative arranging/composing model drawing on composers from world music and contemporary backgrounds.

All arranged by Jacob Garchik, we begin with celebrated singer, songwriter and activist Angélique Kidjo’s YanYanKliYan Senamido #2. The audience is introduced to the use of electrified and amplified cello, which cellist Paul Wiancko plays almost like a slap bass at times. It’s warm, rich and catchy, with wonderful call and response ensemble playing.

Next is Indonesian gamelan artist and singer Peni Candra Rini’s atmospheric Maduswara. With a recorded backing track of nature sounds, David Harrington’s mournful first violin sits at the lowest ends of his instrument, almost viola-like as the other parts pluck and tap. A thunderstorm begins, and drums and cymbals are, in turn, used evocatively.

Four men in black stand on a stage, arms by their sides. Their string instruments hang from the ceiling next to them. This is Kronos Quartet preparing to perform 'Black Angels' at Perth Festival.
Kronos Quartet hang their instruments on wires to perform ‘Black Angels’. Photo: Cam Campbell

My absolute favourite of the night is the intense and emotional third piece, Aleksandra Vrebalov’s My Desert, My Rose. Emerging from nothingness and floating into space in sorrowful melody lines, Kronos displays expert ensemble communication and sensitivity, as the piece propels forward into a scratchy, rhythmical and dramatic ending. It’s an extraordinary work of punch-in-the-guts writing, played expertly.

Electronic producer Jlin’s throbbing and percussive Little Black Book follows, along with John Oswald’s excerpt from Spectre featuring up to 800 pre-recorded layers. This work moves into a thrilling and cacophonous conclusion as players comically move in and out of flashing lights.

After interval, the Kronos instruments hang from wires at the front of the stage. This is for Black Angels, the terrifying and emotive piece prompted by late composer George Crumb’s reaction to the Vietnam War. This challenging work features hyper-amplification, facilitating all sorts of new sonic landscapes as every tap and swipe of a string is captured. Microphones are moved on and off instruments as the piece progresses from shrieking electric insects to passages of excruciatingly delicate pianissimo playing. In a memorable moment, tables full of water glasses are bowed by three members as cellist Wiancko plays the most arresting and heartrending solo.

Long live Kronos as they continue to enliven composers, co-performers and audiences alike with vibrancy, collegiality and technical brilliance.

Pictured top: Kronos Quartet show why they are masters of musicianship in a mesmerising concert. Photo: Cam Campbell

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Author —
Emma Jayakumar

Emma Jayakumar is an Australian composer and librettist whose recent major works include commissions for West Australian Opera, the ABC, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Awesome Arts, West Australian Ballet and Music Book. Emma is an advocate for accessible works for young audiences, as well as new music celebrating diverse Australian voices.

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