Friday, December 15, 2006

Sharing Some of My Son's Recent Work

Regular readers of The White Rhino Report have been introduced to some of the projects that my son, Tim (he now spells it "Thymn"), has been involved with as an ex-patriot living in Krakow, Poland. Two of his recent endeavors I believe are worth sharing with you. Below his his recent interview with members of the renowned Kronos Quartet.

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SynKRONisity: The Kronos Quartet in Krakow City

On November 11th, 2006 as part of the 2nd Annual Festival of Polish Music, The Kronos Quartet decended upon Krakow in a whirlwind of strings, bows and their trademark disregard for musical convention and high regard for contemporary classical innovation. They are widely considered to be the most accomplished and inventive sString qQuartet in the world. This was the group‘s first concert in Krakow and also the first time that they had performed an entire concert of just exclusively Polish music. They performed Krzysztof Penderecki’s Quartetto Per Archi No.1, Witold Lutosławski’s String Quartet, Henryk Górecki’s 3rd String Quartet: Songs of Singing op. 67 (specifically commissioned for the Kronos Quartet) and debuted Paweł Mykietyn’s 2nd String Quartet. The Kronos Quartet is David Harrington on fFirst vViolin, John Sherba on sSecond vViolin, Hank Dutt on vViola and Jeffrey Zeigler on cCello. Thymn Chase had a chance to speak with the group at their press conference held at Empik the day before the concert:

TC: Which is the most challenging for you as a quartet, the process of creation, the production aspect of recording music, or performing?
DH: For me, I try to play one note beautifully with exactly the right sound, intensity and intonation. Once you make one note that you really like, it means that all the other notes you make have to be as good or you’re going to be very unhappy with yourself. And, well, normally I’m pretty unhappy. [laughs]
HD: I agree with David, that recording has its difficulties and also its incredible joys and performing has its different kinds of difficulties and different kinds of joys. So we’re very fortunate to have this diversity. One of the great things about being in Kronos is that we get to work with the composers very closely and we get to have a dialogue with them and we can really understand what the composer had in mind when writing the piece. You get a direct interpretation that works for you. This is the joy of working in Kronos for me.

TC: I am curious if you guys have ever broken any strings in concert?
DH: Oh Yeah.
TC: So do you restring, how does that work?
DH: At this point, we take extra strings out on the stage with us in case that happens. And when we play a fifty-minute quartet, if a string gets broken we’ll go back to the beginning of the movement and start over and hopefully nobody else will break one or else we’ll just be starting over the whole night.
JS: Actually we were just talking about John Zorn’s music and during one of his pieces Hank actually broke a bow. [everyone laughs]
DH: And since that time Hank has been looking and looking for the right bow and has incidentally become one of the great bow experts in the world and it’s all thanks to John Zorn. [more laughter]

TC: So why did you choose Krakow for your only concert in Poland?
DH: Kronos has never played in Krakow before and we’ve always wanted to. Last night we came here for the very first time.
HD: Also my grandparents come from around here [just outside Krakow]!

The concert took place the next day at the Krakow Philharmonic Hall and as the pictures attest, it was not only musically bold, beautiful and inspiring but was visually spellbinding and revolutionary. For the Penderecki piece, the Kronos Quartet performed while standing in a line in front of the stage while the score was projected on a huge screen that the audience could follow along to. [see picture inset] The Gorecki piece, however, was the showcase of the evening and the final piece the Quartet was to perfrom. Once the deeply moving and eleagiac piece came to its subtle yet emotional end, the packed Philharmonic Hall erupted and rewarded the group with four standing ovations . They eventually returned the favor and came out to play an encore. They performed a gorgeous arrangement of the Icelandic atmospheric rock group Sigur Ros’s Flugufrelsarinn. After the concert Thymn Chase sat down with David Harrington to talk about the concert, the Quartet and the future.

TC: Can I jJust say that that was one of the most amazing concerts I have ever seen. It was really something special. How do you feel?
DH: I feel ecstatic actually. Its really hard to play for a new audience in a new city because you never really know what‘s going to happen. The response was incredible though. And I do have to say that the first time we played that piece (Górecki’s 3rd String Quartet) I wasn’t prepared for the profound emotional response I was going to have.
TC: So this wasn’t the first time you performed the piece.
DH: No, we debuted it a year agon in Bielsko Biała. This time, though, I felt like I could be myself. And actually we just finished recording this piece a few days ago in New York and were actually able to hand Henryk a finished copy yesterday.

TC: Now tell me a bit about Paweł Mykietyn whose piece you did debut tonight. How did you discover Paweł’s music?
DH: Someone from the festival gave me a CD and I found that I couldn’t stop listening to it. Yeah, I really liked it. Then they asked if we would be interested in making a program for this year‘s festival.
TC: So have you had a chance to see much of the city?
DH: Unfortunately, no. We are staying in a hotel outside of the city and we are all recovering from jet lag. It is really too bad because we are not going to have a chance to see Krakow at all this time. I am leaving at 5 in the morning tomorrow to fly to Barcelona to work with the young composer festival. We have the under 30 competition coming up.* All of the composers we have worked with since the first competition in 2003 continue to work with us. We are going to be playing Alexandra‘s [winner of the first under 30 competition] new piece in Vienna, and Phillipe, the winner of the second under 30, is writing a new piece right now, so I’m going to Barcelona to work with him in the studio for a couple days in order to get the piece ready.
TC: Great. I know you work with a lot of composers, but do you do any composing yourself?
DH: Not really… bBut I’m the guy that gets us into all the different stuff we do. [bBoth laugh] When it comes to making an album of music that involves a lot of different viewpoints, I’m the one that takes responsibility for the whole project.

TC: I heard that you just finished work on your next soundtrack score.
DH: Yes, its called the Fountain and it comes out worldwide on the 22nd of November [premiers in Poland in January].
TC: Can you talk a little bit about the experience of working on a film score?
DH:Well we were working with Clint Mansell again, who is the composer of the score. We also worked with him on the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream. He’s been working with Darren Arronofsky on all three of Darren’s movies. So there’s a real closeness they have which is really unique. It’s a really inventive score. The group Mogwai also appears.
TC: Did you actually work with Mogwai in the sStudio?
DH: No, they recorded in Scotland and we recorded in California.
TC: So the Composer wrote the music for both of you?
DH: Yeah. There was a lot of amazing experimentation on both of our parts.
TC: Wow! So the Kronos Quartet recorded tracks on top of what Mogwai had previously recorded?
DH: Yeah. We did a lot of exploring and experimenting with different colors and textures and the result is a score which is unlike anything anyone has ever done before.

TC: So tell me about the third piece you played tonight in front of the screen. I believe it was the Penderecki piece. How long have you been performing that piece?.
DH: That was actually only the second time that we’ve ever done that in Europe; that piece, that way. In the US we perform a concert called Visual Music and every piece has a completely different visual environment and that’s one of them. I actually had the idea about thirty years ago, but it took quite a while for the technology to catch up.
TC: It is really quite a fascinating concept because it completely changes the perception of what classical music is supposed to look and sound like. You invite the audience to be part of the experience. What was that notation by the way? It wasn’t like any musical notation I have ever seen.?
DH: Penderecki invented that. Yeah that’s the thing, each of the composers that we played tonight are major innovators and each has a unique style.
TC: Almost a language of their own it seems.
DH: Exactly. Górecki, for me, is extending what Beethoven and Schubert began in terms of form. Ludoslowski, on the other hand, created a whole new way of expressing compositional freedom and giving up control. He created the maximum freedom with the absolute minumum control. He came up with a notation system that insured that a piece would never be played twice the same way.
TC: I am really curious, tThere are a lot of tweaks and chirps and rubs and clicks and scratches in the pieces you played tonight. Are those all in the musical notations?
DH: Yeah, well most of those were very thoroughly notated originally by Penderecki. It’s sort of like a map in a way. Each symbol cannotes a certain sound or technique. And, basically, composers all over the world have used that as sort of the basic building blocks of a vocabulary ever since 1959.

TC: Just out of curiousity, did anyone translate the article for you that was published by the Music Festival and given out before the concert tonight?
DH: No.
TC: Well, it said very boldly that you are the Beatles of classical music… [DH laughs] you didn’t see that?
DH: No, I did not see it.
TC: Well it is pretty amusing. In the beginning of the article, they quite plainly introduce you as the Beatles of cClassical mMusic. Have you heard this before?
DH: Yeah, I think Rolling Stone said something like that before…
TC: My next question for you then is, who is Ringo?
DH: [laughs] That I wouldn’t know. But I do think they were a great quartet so I take it as a complement.

TC: What did you think of the aAcoustics in the Krakow Philharmonic Hall?
DH: I loved it!
TC: Even with the tram rumbling [about every 15 minutes you could hear the rumblings of a tram traveling on ul. Zwyrzienicka]?
DH: That happens at Carnegie Hall as well. [laughs]
TC: So what is your favorite cConcert hHall or performance space that you’ve performed in?
DH: Well, from the standpoint of a really amazing ego experience, I would have to say the concert hall in Beunos Aires. It was about 11 or 12 years ago and there were 4,000 people there. There are like five balconies there and when the audience claps its like God is clapping… you look up and as far as you can see there are just people raining praises on you. So from that standpoint, that’s maybe the coolest place.

TC: One last question, it is clear that the Kronos Quartet has a very significant relationship with several Polish composers and specifically with Henryk Górecki. I am curious ifDo you have any new projects or pieces in the works?.
DH: Actually Henryk and I [points to Górecki who is standing at the other side of the room] were just speaking and he told me that he has just begun writing his first Quintet for Piano and String Quartet.
TC: Wow, now I assume he is writing the piece for the Kronos Quartet, but what about the pianist?.
DH: He is going to perform it himself!
TC: Unbelievable. That is certainly something worth waiting for. Thank you very much David and good luck with all of your musical journeys.

*The Kronos Quartet Under 30 Competition:- This is a project that the Kronos Quartet began on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Quartet in 2003. It is a competosition for, well, composers under 30 to submit compositions to the Quartet. The Quartet collectively decide on a winner each year.

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The following link brings you to a short radio review of Thymn's new magazine,



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