Last night's concert began with two compositions created for Kronos Quartet -- the first, titled "Aheym," was composed by Bryce Dessner (of rock band The National); the second, "Harp and Altar," was created by Pennsylvania-born Missy Mazzoli.
In his introduction to the next composition, David Harrington said, "You know the world's changing when you learn how to play an instrument on YouTube. You also know the world's changing when your dad watches the video three or four times a day because it's his favorite song."
The song was "Lullabye," a traditional piece from Iran arranged by Jacob Garchik. It's a beautiful example of Iran's rich, Persian musical roots, as well as one of the few Middle Eastern folk songs interpreted in a Western classical vein. This was followed by an original composition by former Yugoslavia native Aleksandra Vrebalov, titled "...hold me, neighbor, in this storm..."
It was indeed a storm, as the epic composition (22 minutes total) told a tale of a country torn by ethnic and religious conflict through sound. It began with Harrington playing some somber notes on the gusle (a single-stringed Balkan instrument played with an ornate bow), and John Sherba banging steadily on a big double-headed drum called a tapan. Recordings of Serbian church bells and Islamic prayers overlapped in the background, as Sherba thumped out a slow war march.
As "...hold me, neighbor, in this storm..." went through its movements, it escalated into a raging battle of violins and cello, then suddenly shut down on a sharp note. There was a long silence before the viola came in, buzzing like flies. The sounds of pre-recorded birds chirping and children playing were overtaken by the ticking of a clock and the sound of a woman singing in prayer. Then, another explosion, but this time, with a festive beat and storm of string plucking.
Kronos Quartet took an intermission before returning to play the fast and fun "El Sinaloense (The Man from Sinaloa)," "Raga Mishra Bhairavi: Alap" (which the quartet arranged), and Nicole Lizée's "Death to Kosmiche," another contemporary composition that utilizes obscure instruments (the Omnichord and the Stylophone).
By the end of the low-key evening, Kronos Quartet had put on a high-quality show. No stack amps or fireworks necessary.
Last Night: Kronos Quartet at the Musical Instrument Museum
The Crowd: Mostly couples in their 40s and 50s wearing business casual attire, with a few 30something couples thrown in. The parking lot was filled with mini vans and sedans
Overheard in the Crowd: "Is she not wearing socks with her tennis shoes?" (referring to me, and yes, I was. They were ankle socks).
Personal Bias: The only Kronos Quartet album I own is Henryk Gorecki: String Quartet No. 3, from which they played nothing.
Random Notebook Dump: "Epic acoustics in here!" (written at least three times in various places).