A tent transformed: Kronos delivers adventurous melodies at Music Fest
The Benedict Music Tent was a different place on Friday night.For one thing, the size of the crowd was maybe half what would be expected for the usual Friday night Aspen Chamber Symphony appearance, though the energy generated suffered not at all. Those who were in attendance were noticeably younger than the standard Aspen Music Festival audience.The light show – yes, light show – clothed the stage backdrop in colors that melted from orange to purple. The group came out and played an encore – so welcomed by the crowd that they played another. And then another.Such was the setting for the concert by the Kronos Quartet, a San Francisco string foursome known for their adventurous, ground-breaking ways. OK, anyone can manipulate the crowd with lights and satisfy them by returning for three encores. But what had the crowd eating out of Kronos’ hands was inarguably the music. This was music played not just with an ear for the odd and exotic. The thought and intelligence put into the performance, not to mention the blistering group skill, matched the sense of daring, drama and iconoclasm.Musically, the concert was all over the map; the Music Tent became many different places Friday, all of them different than the norm. The concert opened with a version of “Flugufrelsarinn (The fly freer)” by the Icelandic pop group Sigur Rós, and just the arrangement of the tune for string quartet made it stand out.”Aha gèdawo,” by Ethiopian composer Gétatchèw Mèkurya, was distinguished by cellist Jeffrey Zeigler’s repetitive rhythmic playing, which had the intended effect of inducing a near-hypnotic state. (Zeigler is substituting this summer for regular cellist Jennifer Culp.) “Smoke Rises Across the River,” by Indian Dev Burman, the leading Bollywood film scorer, incorporated recorded music perfectly. (Almost perfectly; there was a momentary technical glitch that forced Kronos to restart the piece.)Kronos was also capable of producing music of profound beauty. Such was the case with “Oasis,” a gentle piece – also with recorded effects, mainly of rain falling – by Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh. The work, commissioned by Kronos and included on their recent CD, “Mugam Sayagi,” was moving enough to convey a sense of spirituality. For a further shot of string quartet beauty, there was the second encore, a work from a Lebanese composer.Beautiful wouldn’t describe John Zorn’s “Cat o’ Nines Tail,” which concluded the first half. The work seemed written as an exercise in cramming as many twists and turns into a musical piece as possible. It was amusing, and served as a profound test of Kronos’ concentration and timing, but went on too long to fully embrace.The second half was devoted to Steve Reich’s “Different Trains.” A quasi-minimalist meditation on the composer’s mid-20th century train trips across the United States, and the trains that sped Jews to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps, “Different Trains” uses string sounds to echo and mimic the conductor’s calls. With the lights behind Kronos going from bright to dim, an effective sense of various kinds of movement took hold of the tent.For their first encore, Kronos played a Jimi Hendrix-inspired version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The deconstructed take was every bit as dramatic as Hendrix’s, or at least as dramatic as one could get without lighter fluid and matches. After the Lebanese piece, Kronos returned with a Mexican composition, from their album, “Nuevo.”The crowd roared for a concert that worked on every level, from the musical to the spiritual to the theatrical.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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