chapter
28 Pages

Re-Drawing Boundaries: The Kronos Quartet

Despite a few appearances in the sphere of popular music in the Beatles' song "Yesterday" for instance - the string quartet has until relatively recently been the quintessential exemplar of the "classical" music ideal of music for musicians, subject to refined, concentrated listening in contemplative settings removed from the distractions of society. Thus, it is remarkable that the genre has not only been reinvigorated, but has become a symbol of a new direction in "art" music, wherein art and popular music - the latter expanded to include so-called "world music" - have become intertwined to a degree unprecedented in this century. This new role for the string quartet is due largely to the musical and marketing

influence of the Kronos Quartet, now over two decades old. From its concerts and recordings, commissions and collaborations, repertoire including such diverse composers as Alfred Schnittke, John Zorn, Anton Webern, and Jimi Hendrix, and contemporary post-punk image and theatrical stage presentation, Kronos has gained a popularity and influence substantial enough to redefine the terms of classical-music recordings and concerts. In its ability to "cross over" from the classical charts to a wider audience, Kronos follows in the wake of John Cage and Leonard Bernstein, minimalist composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams, and a larger trend towards a mixing of musical categories that includes such groups as the Who (with their rock "opera" Tommy), Tashi, and the Turtle Island Quartet (one of many string quartets which has appeared in Kronos' wake), and figures as diverse as Laurie Anderson, Elvis Costello, Danny Elfman, Nigel Kennedy, Michael Nyman, Luciano Pavoratti, Frank Zappa, Keith Emerson, and John Zorn. In its impact on its own genre and increasing tendency to transform and transcend that genre, Kronos has even been compared to the Beatles (Tesser 1987,16).