Members: Jennifer Culp, cello; Hank Dutt, viola (born Muscatine, Iowa, 4 November 1952); David Harrington, violin (born Oregon, 9 September 1949); John Sherba, violin (born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 10 December 1954). Former member: Joan Jeanrenaud, cello (born Memphis, Tennessee, 25 January 1956).
Best-selling album since 1990: Pieces of Africa (1992)
Since its founding in 1973 by violinist David Harrington, the Kronos Quartet has become one of the United States' premier chamber groups. With the help of its eclectic repertoire, featuring works by composers from Astor Piazzolla to John Zorn, Kronos Quartet has attracted a diverse audience. It has brought the music of the twentieth century to the attention of a large public and opened the art music establishment to the sounds of rock, tango, and other popular genres.
Kronos Quartet began in the early 1970s when Harrington started assembling string quartets dedicated to performing new music in his native Seattle, Washington. Harrington settled in San Francisco in 1978, and obtained a residency for his string quartet at Mills College. It was in the early days at Mills that the Kronos Quartet settled into its first lineup, with violinists John Sherba and Hank Dutton and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. After more than twenty years with the group, Jeanrenaud left in 1999. She was replaced by cellist Jennifer Culp.
The Kronos Quartet established itself in new music circles with its expert playing of difficult twentieth-century works. In the early 1980s, the group made a larger name for itself through extensive touring and several well-received recordings. Kronos Quartet's concerts include works by established twentieth-century composers like Anton Webern and new works from modern composers. Encores famously included Kronos Quartet's string quartet arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" (originally for electric guitar and rock bands), which was later released on Kronos Quartet (1986). The Kronos Quartet's 1989 recording of Steve Reich's Different Trains helped the composer win the Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Thus the group entered the 1990s as one of the biggest names in American chamber music.
Kronos Quartet continued to push classical music forward throughout the 1990s, with a combination of innovative performances and commissions. In 1990 Kronos Quartet premiered a fully staged version of George Crumb's string quartet Black Angels. Two years later, it released Pieces of Africa on which it performs a selection of African songs arranged for string quartet. Over the decade, Kronos Quartet increasingly added instruments to its concerts and recordings. For example, performances of Steven Mackey's "Physical Property," released on Short Stories (1993), includes the composer playing his electric guitar alongside the quartet. Howl, U.S.A. (1996) made it to the top of the classical charts and includes a reading of Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl. Kronos Quartet has also redefined the boundaries of "new music," as in its 1997 release Early Music, which contains thirteenth-century music that sounds strange and new to modern ears.
In 1998 the Kronos Quartet celebrated its twenty-five-year anniversary. It released a ten-disc box set to celebrate this landmark, which includes works representing the wide range and arcane nature of the group's repertoire. Once the bad boys of the classical recording world, Kronos Quartet has become one of the most well-established and highly regarded American chamber ensembles. And while the Kronos Quartet may no longer represent classical music's most cutting edge, it played a pivotal role in bringing American art music into the twenty-first century.
Black Angels (Atlantic, 1990); Pieces of Africa (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1992); Short Stories (Nonesuch, 1993); Howl, U.S.A. (Nonesuch, 1996); Early Music (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1997); 25 Years (Nonesuch, 1998); Nuevo (Elektra/Asylum, 2002).
caroline polk o'meara