Back to the Royal Conservatory; Koerner Hall this time, for more Kronos Quartet last night. It was a bit of a mixed bag. I’m starting to understand that I really enjoy this group when they are doing music; however weird, but not so much when they are preaching.
They started off with a mash up of Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music and a Hendrix inspired arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner. This was pretty cool. There were swinging microphones picking up whatever was coming from the players or the speakers making for layer upon layer of feedback loops with a (somewhat) recognisable tune at the centre of it.
This was followed by Antonio Haskell’s God Shall Wipe All Tears Away; a spiritual inspired tribute to Mahalia Jackson. Then came the first of the pieces heavy on recorded text. Stacy Garrop’s Glorious Mahalia is a five movement piece featuring music over recordings of Studs Terkel interviewing Mahalia Jackson. It had its moments but it felt preachy and didactic and not very interesting musically.
So yea for Tanya Tagaq who came n stage basically dressed as a disco ball (I wish I had a photo!) and worked the audience like crazy. The first piece was just Tanja and the Kronos and involved that weird range of sounds unique to Tanja. The second was a remix of Tanja’s album track Coloniser which also includes some recorded text. The mix of TT and the Kronos is weird and wonderful and has a kind of magic.
After the intermission the second guest of the evening; sarangi player Aruna Narayan, joined the quartet for an arrangement of Mishra Pilu. Lots of interesting ideas here. It started off as a sort of conventional sarangi piece with electronic drone but morphed into something more complex; somewhere between Hindustani music and a classical quintet with the the cello often playing the role one might expect a tabla to play. Fasdcinating!
Next up was a threnody for the Armenian genocide with an arrangement of Komitas’ Groung (Crane) over a reading of a poem by David Barsamian. Effective enough. This was followed by Abel Meeropol’s Strange Fruit; a piece for string quartet inspired by Billie Holiday. I like the way Kronos incorporate themes/ideas/songs from popular music but kind of wonder why they all come from such a narrow range of sources.
Then we got Zachary James Watkin’s Peace Be Till. It’s long and features a recording of Clarence B. Jones reminiscing about speech writing for Martin Luther King. I really don’t remember much about the music and bits of the tape were replayed multiple times. Frankly I found it deadly dull and would have left quite grumpy if it weren’t for the encore which was an arrangement of House of the Rising Sun. It was energetic and colourful and it was music.
This was the “big show” of the Kronos Quartet’s week in Toronto and it had its moments but for the most part I preferred the concert the previous evening in Mazzoleni. nIn any event it concluded the December portion of the 21C festival which resumes after the turkeyfest.
Last night was recorded for video but it’s not available yet so no photos of Tanya’s dress. The photos are publicity shots courtesy of the RCM.