The Kronos Quartet concludes its weeklong residency with a concert

The string quartet employed cutting-edge technology and experimentation at the Setnor Auditorium Wednesday night.

As part of a weeklong residency, the Kronos Quartet offered an exhilarating presentation at Syracuse University Wednesday.

SU professor Theo Cateforis, offered a preview before the presentation. He reviewed the quartet’s 30-year history and shared his personal memories with Kronos. He said he remembered when he first discovered the ensemble, hearing their performance of Jimi Hendrix’s "Purple Haze" in 1986.

“Kronos Quartet’s career can simply be called visionary,” Cateforis said.

Photo: Veronica Magan
Violinist David Harrington, founder of Kronos Quartet, performed Wednesday night.

Their presentation at Setnor Auditorium was a perfect example of this. The ensemble performed a piece composed specifically for them by professor  Douglas Quin for the very first time. The piece featured the K-Bow, a new technology that took the experience to the next level.

Keith McMillen, the inventor of the K-Bow, was present at the concert. Earlier in the evening, he explained to the incoming audience how a Bluetooth device in the bow enhances the work of the musicians. He offered a demonstration where attendees gathered around him to see the K-Bow closely and get a preview of how it works.

Before Kronos’ presentation, Cateforis thanked the audience for a “Friday night turnout on a Wednesday night.” The hall was filled with students, faculty and fans who erupted in applause when the four musicians took the stage. The quartet started without a word, setting the mood for the first piece: “WTC 9/11 (2010)” composed by Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Reich.

The spoken text throughout the piece was dark and powerful. Sound bites from the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the New York City Fire Department and neighbors who survived the terrorist attacks were interspersed throughout.

The sound bites were orchestrated with string melodies. This was the favorite part of this piece for Misha Rabinovich, a graduate student in the transmedia department at the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

“I really liked how well coordinated the performance was with the samples," Rabinovich said. "It was very specific and well executed.”

Caitlin Foley, a graduate student in material studies at VPA, agreed with Rabinovich, but didn’t enjoy this piece as much.

“I just wish some of the words were a little more vague,” Foley said. “I don’t think I needed to be given as many specific details, but maybe that’s just because I’m from the U.S. and I’m in New York.”

The next piece incorporated other gadgets and instruments to make all types of sounds.

They followed that with the world premier of Quin’s “Polar Suite,” a piece inspired by his experiences in Antarctica, among other places. The piece featured use of the K-Bow. Without touching the strings, the quartet controlled the lights onstage and created melodies featuring sounds from some of the most remote places on the planet.

“Polar Suite” was divided into three parts: “Wind and Sky,” “Ice,” and “Voices,” mixing field recordings of wind, glaciers, icebergs, and underwater sounds. The creation of the piece was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

For Zachary Boyt, a master’s student at Western Michigan University, “it’s really monumental to have this technology used within an ensemble setting like this,” he said. “It really helps to build the repertoire for music working with this type of technology.”

After an intermission, Kronos Quartet returned to the stage with music by composers Michael Gordon, Omar Souleyman and Aleksandra Vrebalov. They also played a traditional Scandinavian folk song introduced by David Harrington, founder of Kronos Quartet.

“Every concert needs at least one love song,” Harrington said.

The encore featured a request from Newhouse arts journalism student Andrew Johnson.

“He [Johnson] said he’d be in heaven if we played this,” Harrington said before performing “Death is the Road to Awe,” part of the score from Darren Aronofsky’s film "The Fountain."

The three-hour concert concluded with Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a song recorded for an Amensty International benefit CD.

“It surpassed my expectations because I saw them once before but this was definitely better,” Rabinovich said.

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