(Adelaide Festival Theatre, 13 March 2023)
Kronos Quartet is not a string quartet: it is an anti-string quartet. “The Kronos Quartet has broken the boundaries of what string quartets do” quoth the holy New York Times. “…the most far-ranging ensemble geographically, nationally, and stylistically the world has known” was the verdict of the somewhat less paper-of-record Los Angeles Times. The group is from Seattle, by way of San Francisco, which is surely a ‘tell.’
Violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Paul Wiancko can play their instruments beautifully, as they demonstrated in the 2nd part of the programme with a sublime modern piece called Enthusiasm Strategies. This was truly a string quartet in action, and the consummate manner of execution made mock of what otherwise was an at times interesting shambles.
For, unfortunately, that piece was buried beneath a play-list of discordant squeaks, shouts, gongs, maracas, muttering, and fiddling with water-tuned crystal glasses, and involved not-so-much playing the violins as beating them black and blue. At times it came across as if three superannuated members of Kraftwerk, and a sumo wrestler, were playing Portishead tunes on household implements.
The opener was George Crumb’s Black Angels, which first inspired Kronos to form in 1973, just as the war in Vietnam was winding down. It’s discord is meant to symbolise the war, but we’ve no idea how. It was akin to a soundtrack to an indie horror film. The 2nd work, ilektrikés rímes, had a structure at least, was written by someone called Aleksandra Vrebalov, featured a recorded Cossack chorus and could instead be titled ‘Taking Kyiv by Strategy.’
The second half started with the ‘world premiere’ of Beak, a paean to the pied butcherbird – by Australian composers Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor. Here, the by-now-all-too-familiar plinking and plunking accompanied an annoying bird, who did most of the work.
Then alas, back to more discordant bollocks and then 3 Persian songs by Iranian vocalist Mahsa Vahdat, which was indecipherable to non-Arabic speakers: she could have been singing ‘Kill all infidels’ or ‘Impeach Trump’ for all we knew.
The crowd seemed to love it however, which, in the final analysis, is what counts.