The San Francisco string ensemble Kronos Quartet has a conventional lineup — two violins, viola, and cello — but that's where their similarity to other string quartets ends.
In the 30-plus years since the group began performing, they have gained a reputation for working outside the traditional chamber music mold. Their repertoire is broad (Mexican folk, 60s psych, jazz, tango, and more), their list of collaborators eclectic (glam icon David Bowie, minimalist composer Terry Riley, and recently, Chinese pipa maven Wu Man). This weekend, Kronos is at it again with a multi-night event at Carnegie Hall, featuring guest artists from around the globe.
Saturday night brings the New York premiere of Tundra Songs by Canadian composer Derek Charke. A Kronos-commissioned work, Tundra Songs was designed to complement the voice of its lead performer, the Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Expect plenty of lively give-and-take as Taqaq mashes up the traditional music of her native Nunavut (a territory of Arctic Canada) with the quartet's western instrumentation.
Watch Tagaq in action with Kronos in 2007:
Performers from Scandanavia's vibrant neo-traditional music scene are a rare occurrence in New York. Saturday's program begins with a performance from Finland's Ritva Koistinen, a Sibelius Academy professor as well as a performer. Koistinen is a virtuoso of Finland's national instrument, the kantele — a large wood zither with a bell-like sound. She will play a mix of traditional and modern pieces, including one by Estonian composer Arvo Part.
Also straddling the line between the modern and the classical are electronic duo Hurdy Gurdy, a side project of Swedish folk-rock band Garmarna. The group's namesake is a 16-stringed, fiddle-like instrument controlled by a primitive keyboard, which some modern musicologists have dubbed "the medieval synthesizer." Hurdy Gurdy runs with that concept, sampling sounds from real hurdy gurdies and digitally chopping them up; they will debut a new work entitled Scatter.
Sunday's program, billed as "Music Without Borders," takes on the music of Central Asia. The evening is a de facto release party for Rainbow: Music of Central Asia, Volume 8, the latest in a comprehensive CD series helmed by Smithsonian Folkways. Rainbow features Kronos working with two Central Asian artists: Homayoun Sakhi, a master of Afghanistan's lute-like rubab; and the Alim Qasimov Ensemble of Azerbajan, led by the singing duo of Qasimov and his daughter Fargana. The three acts will perform new music developed, in collaboration, specifically for this project. (Fans of Alim and Fargana can also catch them Friday night at the Asia Society, performing their own material in a more intimate setting.)