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Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

« Taking music outside the box | Main | Alive & Kickin' »

June 17, 2005

Shadows and Light

Though I've been immersed in music much of my life, the moments when I sense a deep shift in how I actually experience it are quite rare. When they do register, I listen differently from then on. It's usually akin to something falling into place—not unlike like the clarity you can feel the morning after sleeping on an issue that had seemed inscrutable the night before.

I knew I felt such a shift during Kronos Quartet’s remarkable recording with us in late October 2000. The country still nursed its post-9/11 terror, fall was hardening into winter; and if there was a general awareness that music was more important than ever, it also felt sapped by menacing realities.

At some point during Kronos’ program—a dark, beautiful, often provocative series of new works—I realized just how responsive to the immediate world classically grounded music could be. I must have known that before, but it had the edge of a revelation, opening me further music of our own time, with all its shadows and light. I don’t think I’ve listened to Beethoven and Shostakovich the same way since, either.

Kronos’ own David Harrington says it best: “I’ve always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life.”

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at June 17, 2005 3:20 PM



Which piece on the CD played on the June 19 program
(Icelandic, I think) translates to "The Fly Free-er"???

By gaiety at June 19, 2005 8:54 AM


I loved today's program and the fearlessness of Kronos so well expressed above. Listen to your terrific show each week. I wish there were many more like it. How can I listen to you in san Francisco?

By Stuart at June 19, 2005 3:36 PM


Since first hearing them 25 years ago on a cold, snowy night in Buffalo, I've never been a fan of the Kronos Quartet or the music they choose to play. Today's program only confirmed my opinion.

They don't play music, so much as individual notes, unstrung and lacking cohesion by an absence of harmony. And I'm no Luddite: I love the quartets of Bartok, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich. Kronos seems to chose music for it's shock value (the way a five-year old opens his food-filled mouth at the dinner table); except it's not shocking, just boring.

Another note: heard the NY Philharmonic last night with Gil Shaham as soloist and his brother-in-law, David Robertson, filling in for Maazel.
As often happens when a guest conductor takes the helm, the Philharmonice turned in a nearly comatose performance (despite Robertson's Bernsteinesque gyrations). I was in the tenth row and, to a person, they looked like a class kept after school for detention. Those of you visiting NY with tickets for the Philharmonic would do well to choose a concert with Maazel conducting (under who they play brilliantly), or a guest conductor who is known to be firm taskmaster.

John Niesyn

By John Niesyn at June 19, 2005 10:23 PM


Dear Gaiety, Stuart, and John: Thanks to each of you for writing. We got a lot of wonderful email response to the program as well.

Gaiety, the work you're trying to track down is Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly Freer), a song by the Icelandic rock group Sigur Rós as arranged for Kronos by Stephen Prutsman. I don't know if they've recorded it but if you go to our homepage (www.saintpaulsunday.org) and follow the links to the Public Radio Music Source, you can find out if its available and how to buy it.

Stuart, thanks for your response. We're always trying to find a home in San Francisco, where we've been on intermittently over the years, and where some of our most loyal fans live. Stay tuned...we're working on it. And if you have any suggestions, please send 'em our way.

John, Thanks for being so engaged, even when something's not your cup of tea. My take on Kronos (keeping in mind I'm an abject fan) is that they've always tried to crack open the expections and conventions which have calcified around classical performance so as to free up new voices and directions for it. That's not always comfortable, but need it be? If the great number of composers who have written for Kronos is any sign, they've had an enormous impact of making music of our own time possible and keeping it inspired.

By Vaughn Ormseth at June 20, 2005 10:24 AM


Just a follow up on Kronos' performance of Flugufrelsarinn ("The Fly Freer"), a song originally written by the Icelandic rock group Sigur Rós. Several listeners have emailed to ask if Kronos has recorded it and if so how to purchase it. As far as we've been able to tell, none of Kronos' CDs includes it so far. That may change, though...probably the best way to keep posted is to contact Kronos directly through its website, or to check in periodically at the Public Radio Music Source. I agree with those who've written in: it's an eerily gorgeous work.

By Vaughn Ormseth at June 30, 2005 3:41 PM


I listen to this program on my PC, since in Montevideo we do not get your signal! I very much enjoy the way the program is conducted, the music as well as this forum, even though I am far from being an expert. I agree with John on a couple of things about this particular program. I did not like the music chose by Kronos. At some point, I just shat Media Player down, I couldn’t continue to listen. True is that we do not all have to like everything. Anyways, it was the question about the artists’ philosophy/ideology coloring the way we listen to and enjoy their art, what encouraged me to write a message, even though I very much liked Vaughn Ormseth’s comment. During the late 70s early 80s South America was immersed in the most cruel dictatorships of its history. Genocide is not a big enough word to name what happened here. In spite of us knowing many names of artists involved in the process, they continue to be on the scene, and considered great figures in the arts world. Sometimes it is difficult to understand how humans perceive justice. If the law cannot do anything about it, shouldn’t collective moral punish them, anyways?

By Staunton at July 12, 2005 8:33 PM