A joyous reunion of one of the most influential groups of our time

Kronos Five Decades Tour
Opera House Concert Hall
March 14
Reviewed by PETER McCALLUM

In 1973 the Sydney Opera House opened and the Kronos Quartet was founded. Fifty years on and both are doing just fine.

The first half of the quartet’s Five Decades Tour saw them clustered around tables with old-style dial phones, gongs and other props for a rich sampling of some of their most recent work with composers across the world, before ending with a Kronos classic, Steve Reich’s Different Trains.

Old-style dial phones were among the quirky props the quartet used.Credit:Ken Leanfore

For the second half they and their instruments were arrayed across the width and depth of the Concert Hall’s magnificently refurbished stage – violins, viola and cello dangling ominously, gongs just behind, and draped tables concealing wine-glass harmonicas at the back.

The piece was George Crumb’s Black Angels: Thirteen Images from the Dark Land, written to capture the anguish of the Vietnam War, and worryingly relevant again. Crumb wrote on the score, “Finished on Friday, 13 March, 1970” so the Kronos’s visual production, designed by Larry Neff with Jack Carpenter and sound design by Scott Fraser, was performed just one day after its 53rd birthday.

They began with three works by singer/composers which, even for followers for all of those five decades, opened new worlds of sound. YanYanKliYan Senamido (2020) by West African singer/composer Angélique Kidjo, was a beguilingly open-textured work featuring a fusion of Beninese melody and rhythm, played with beautifully airy, light precision.

Maduswara (2020) by East Javanese gamelan singer Peni Candra Rini began with sliding sighs and evocation by leader David Harrington of vocal cries and stylised wailing, alternated with emulations by the others of the tapping rhythms of Javanese gongs.

Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer from Northern Canada and her Sivunittinni created quietly rasping, abrasive sounds to make a sense of inner intimacy. All are part of Kronos’s Learning Fifty for the Future project, and scores, recordings and interviews are available free.

It was for the selections from Nicole Lizée’s Zonely Hearts that the props were needed. Retro phones were dialled and slammed down in coordinated rhythm, players shouted and instruments were “bowed” with paper scrolls, all with the Kronos’s dedicated focus and concentration that never fail to draw listeners in, whether to the unearthly, the bewildering or the plain zany.

Laurie Anderson’s Flow formed a hushed inner hymn of peace, before Steve Reich’s work in three movements created the most extended music of the first half. As with the opening pieces, Reich generates music from speech, building iterative musical episodes from spoken phrases by railway workers and holocaust survivors into a complex minimalist web.

The thirteen pieces of Dark Angels are punctuated by three Threnodies, each seizing the listener’s attention with scraped screeching, while its remaining numbers provide quieter depth, crystalline calm and symbolic references to Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and the Dies Irae plainchant, each hinting at something lost. For encore they played Terry Riley’s One Earth, One People, One Love, an apt encapsulation of their encompassing global vision and the tie of love that binds them and their listeners to their work.

This was a joyous, thought-provoking, sometimes troubling reunion with one of the most influential groups of our time.

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