Can you imagine deeply saturated images of atmospheric clouds and vast sonic landscapes inching closer? There’s something about the works of Kronos Quartet and Icelandic band Sigur Rós that amplifies human emotion on an immeasurable scale.
For this year’s Director’s Choice series at the Mondavi Center, Don Roth, the executive director for the Mondavi Center, personally chose the Kronos Quartet. On Monday, the Mondavi will also screen a documentary about Sigur Rós, called Heima, as a forward to the Kronos Quartet concert.
Known for their range in musical versatility, Kronos Quartet has been exploring different styles of music through string compositions.
“Often [the Director’s Choice programs] are programs that many Mondavi Center patrons might not be familiar with, but that I think are very special and interesting,” Roth said. “We love the Kronos Quartet because they are musical explorers – they never stop finding new parts of music to uncover and perform.”
During their program next Thursday night, Kronos Quartet is scheduled to perform music by Sigur Rós, Bryce Dessner of The National, Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream) and Café Tacuba. This diverse and relatively contemporary repertoire treads the fine lines of ambient and instrumental rock. The program will take audiences on a vivid adventure through sound instead.
Speaking with Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington on the phone as he makes his way to a meeting on a city bus, one can sense that there is nothing more satisfying to him than crafting music from a raw artistic realization.
“It was started in 1973 when I heard Black Angels,” said Harrington. “It was written during the Vietnam War by George Crumb. When I first heard it, I didn’t know what instruments were playing. It was a string quartet and it was just this incredible sonic adventure. For me, that piece kind of answered a lot of questions I had about music and life. Since these past 37 years, I’ve been keeping my ears open to that kind of experience which is kind of special and fills up the vacancies in life.”
Harrington (violin) is joined by John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola) and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello) to make up the Kronos Quartet.
Kronos Quartet has worked with a large range of artists and composers including Terry Riley, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Waits and Clint Mansell, of whom they recorded the famous score from the film Requiem for a Dream. But perhaps one of the most important collaboration for Harrington was hearing the unique sounds of a unique band of Iceland – Sigur Rós.
“It was probably 10 or more years ago when I first heard of Sigur Rós,” Harrington said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It sounded like a string quartet but played on different instruments. Jónsi [Birgisson]’s voice is so expressive and beautiful, and fragile, and so many things at the same time. What happened was we got in touch and pretty soon we were meeting up. We went to their studio and several members came to the mixing session of our album. It was one of those moments where music just transcended. The feelings that were in the air at the moment were so beautiful. I felt really close to them and as a quartet.”
The acclaimed Sigur Rós documentary Heima will provide background on the reclusive band so Kronos attendees can fully appreciate the music and its homeland.
“Jeremy [Ganter, programming director for the Mondavi] introduced me to Heima – the amazing documentary about Sigur Rós-which takes in all the wild, weird and wonderful landscapes of Iceland to accompany their music,” Roth said. “So we got the idea of showing the film for free in our Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, because it is beautiful, and also to provide background to the Kronos concert.”
Tyler Eash, a senior landscape architecture student, has been a fan of Sigur Rós for the past four years and is very excited about the event.
“I am grateful for the gratis show and I agree with the idea of exposing the campus to international artists, and bringing in a new and assumingly younger audience,” Eash said.
Kronos Quartet performed at the Mondavi Center nearly three years ago. For Harrington, performing in Jackson Hall is definitely a treat.
“We have a wonderful audience at UC Davis,” Harrington said. “And it doesn’t get any better than that – it’s always a delight to go there because of how great the acoustics are. And the Mondavi Center is a wonderful place. You should realize how lucky you are and fill your imagination with sound which vibrates.”
As for how seriously we should take this director’s choice? Let’s leave on this note from Roth:
“Here’s what I really think: if there are any students out there who don’t think they will enjoy a string quartet concert, I challenge them to attend Kronos and to let me know if they don’t think it is an amazing experience. These four instruments (two violins, viola and cello) create a sound world that is grounded in some of the best alt music around today! I only picked three director’s choices this year and this had to be one of them.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to mondaviarts.org.
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Monday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m.
Vanderhoef Studio Theatre (Mondavi Center)
Thursday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m.
Jackson Hall (Mondavi Center)
Regular: $49.00 / $37.00 / $25.00
Student: $24.50 / $18.50 / $12.50