Kronos Quartet In the Blue Room Program Notes

The following notes accompany the August 5, 2018 Kronos Quartet concert program. 

Zaghlala (2017)
Islam Chipsy (b. 1985)
Arranged by Jacob Garchik

Islam Chipsy and his band EEK are a three-way force of nature from Cairo, Egypt, described by those who’ve been caught in the eye of their storm as one of the most exciting live propositions on the planet. At the core of the group lies electronic chaabi keyboard pioneer Islam Chipsy, whose joyous, freewheeling sonic blitz warps the standard oriental scale system into otherworldly shapes. He is flanked by Mohamed Karam and Mahmoud Refat who rain down a percussive maelstrom behind dual drum kits.

Harp and Altar (2009)
Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980)
Sampled vocals by Gabriel Kahane.

Missy Mazzoli’s Harp and Altar was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Margaret Dorfman and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund. Mazzoli is a 2018 Cabrillo Festival composer-in-residence and has provided the following notes:

Harp and Altar is a love song to the Brooklyn Bridge. The title comes from a poem by Hart Crane in which he describes the Brooklyn Bridge as ‘that harp and altar of the Fury fused.’ The Borough of Brooklyn is impossible to describe, but the Brooklyn Bridge seems to be an apt symbol for its vastness, its strength, and its history. Halfway through the work the vocalist sings fragments of these lines from Crane’s poem ‘The Bridge’:

Through the bound cable strands, the arching path
Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings,
Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate
The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.

Crane lived for some time at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn, in an apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Only after completing his poem did he learn that one of its key builders, Washington Roebling, had once lived at the same address. Every day I take long walks around my Brooklyn neighborhood, often ending up at the site of the house where Crane lived when he wrote these lines. In writing this piece for the Kronos Quartet, I tried to imagine the Brooklyn Bridge through Crane’s eyes, a new monument to technology, a symbol of optimism and faith.

Many thanks to the Kronos Quartet, Gabriel Kahane, Margaret Dorfman, and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund for making this work possible.

–Missy Mazzoli

Quartet Satz (2017)
Philip Glass (b. 1937)

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Philip Glass is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School. In the early 1960s, Glass spent two years of intensive study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and while there, earned money by transcribing Ravi Shankar’s Indian music into Western notation.

By 1974, Glass had a number of innovative projects, creating a large collection of new music for The Philip Glass Ensemble, and for the Mabou Mines Theater Company. This period culminated in Music in Twelve Parts, and the landmark opera, Einstein on the Beach for which he collaborated with Robert Wilson. Since Einstein, Glass has expanded his repertoire to include music for opera, dance, theater, chamber ensemble, orchestra, and film.

His scores have received Academy Award nominations (Kundun, The Hours, Notes on a Scandal) and a Golden Globe (The Truman Show). Glass’ Symphony No. 7 and Symphony No. 8, along with Waiting for the Barbarians—an opera based on the book by J.M. Coetzee—premiered in 2005. In April 2007, the English National Opera, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Opera, remounted Glass’ Satyagraha, which appeared in New York in April 2008. Glass’ opera Kepler, based on the life and work of Johannes Kepler and commissioned by Linz 2009, Cultural Capital of Europe, and Landestheater Linz, premiered in September 2009 in Linz, Austria and in November 2009 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Symphony #9 was completed in 2011 and premiered in Linz, Austria in January 1, 2012 by the Bruckner Orchestra, followed by a U.S. premiere in New York at Carnegie Hall on January 31, 2012 as part of the composer’s 75th birthday celebration. Symphony #10 was completed this spring and received its European premiere in France in the summer of 2012 and its U.S. premiere at the Cabrillo Festival in 2013.

In August 2011, Glass launched the inaugural season of The Days And Nights Festival, a multi-disciplinary arts festival in Carmel / Big Sur, California.

pencil sketch (2017)
Yevgeniy Sharlat (b. 1977) 

Yevgeniy Sharlat has composed music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo, theater, ballet, mechanical sculptures, animations, and film. His commissions have come from such institutions as the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, the Caramoor Festival, The Curtis Institute of Music, Texas Performing Arts, Gilmore Keyboard Festival, Astral Artistic Services, and the Seattle Chamber Players. His music has been performed by such ensembles as Kremerata Baltica, the Seattle Symphony, Hartford Symphony, NCSA Symphony, Mikkeli City Orchestra (Finland), Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, the NOW Ensemble, and Le Train Bleu. 

Sharlat was the recipient of the 2006 Charles Ives Fellowship from American Academy of Arts and Letters; other honors include a Fromm Music Foundation Commission to write for the Viney-Grinberg Piano Duo, fellowships from MacDowell and Yaddo, and ASCAP’s Morton Gould, Boosey & Hawkes, and Leiber & Stoller awards. 

Born in Moscow, Russia, Sharlat majored in violin, piano, and music theory at the Academy of Moscow Conservatory. After immigrating to the United States in 1994, he studied composition at Juilliard Pre-College, received his bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale University. His teachers included Aaron Jay Kernis, Martin Bresnick, Joseph Schwantner, Ned Rorem, and Richard Danielpour. Sharlat is associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches composition and music theory. 

About pencil sketch, the composer writes:

My sincerest thanks to Kronos Quartet for making this piece happen. As David Harrington was explaining the purpose of the Fifty for the Future project to me, two things caught my attention.

One was the notion of creating a body of new repertoire that would inspire young string players to discover the limitless expressive potential of string quartet. As a music student in the latter days of the Soviet Union, my training sadly consisted of being told what not to do—so the idea of unshackling students’ conception of sound really appealed to me.

The other: David asked that whatever technological enhancement I chose to include, it would need to be easily obtainable and guaranteed to exist for at least another 50 years. Contrary to his wishes, I have chosen technology that is already deemed defunct: the #2 wood-cased pencil with eraser. I used it to sketch the piece, and so will Kronos, to play it. And why not? It was the most popular gadget at a recent SXSW tech conference in Austin, where I live. A sign there read: ‘Somewhere along the way, in the race to get ahead, we lost something important.’

And so I wanted to write a piece that has an intimate pencil-scraping-on-paper feel to it, that of trying to recapture a long-lost feeling with lines and dots and shading and hatching, before rendering it in full and vibrant color. I hope for the sake of future generations that both pencils and string quartets will last an eternity.

–Yevgeniy Sharlat

Microsurco de Liebre (2017)
Mario Galeano Toro (b. 1977)

Mario Galeano Toro, born in Bogotá, has been focused over the past 15 years on researching Colombian tropical music and its diaspora throughout the continent. His search has resulted in influential tropicalista projects that range from roots music to experimental music, such as Frente Cumbiero, Los Pirañas, and Ondatrópica. His projects have been released on ten vinyl records and performed in more than 35 countries worldwide.

Toro studied composition in the World Music department of Rotterdam’s [Rotterdam] Conservatory in the Netherlands. He has achieved grants and distinctions from cultural organizations from Colombia and abroad, as well as a Latin Grammy for musical production. He is a record collector of music from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Toro is a university teacher of music history and is a record-cutting apprentice. 

Mario Galeano Toro’s Microsurco de Liebre for String Quartet and Dubplate was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Teatro Colón–Bogotá. The composer provided the following notes:

This is a raw and fast piece that the string quartet plays along with a fifth member: an acetate dubplate specially cut for the piece. Inquiring into the rhythmic powers of Colombian coastal music, I constructed a percussion track using the typical hiss, pops and clicks present in vinyl records, in this case in 78s of old tropical music. Basically, scratches and dust gathered inside the record’s grooves for decades. The acetate dubplate was then cut with a vintage machine that I restored.

–Mario Galeano Toro

Strange Fruit (1939)
Abel Meeropol (1903–1986)
Arranged by Jacob Garchik

Best known from Billie Holiday’s haunting 1939 rendition, the song Strange Fruit is a harrowing portrayal of the lynching of a black man in the American South. While many people assume that the song was written by Holiday herself, it actually began as a poem by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher and union activist from the Bronx who later set it to music. Disturbed by a photograph of a lynching, the teacher wrote the stark verse and brooding melody under the pseudonym Lewis Allan in the late 1930s. Meeropol and his wife Anne are also notable because they adopted Robert and Michael Rosenberg, the orphaned children of the executed communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Strange Fruit was first performed at a New York teachers’ union meeting and was brought to the attention of the manager of Cafe Society, a popular Greenwich Village nightclub, who introduced Billie Holiday to the writer. Holiday’s record label refused to record the song, but Holiday persisted and recorded it on a specialty label instead. The song was quickly adopted as the anthem for the anti-lynching movement. The haunting lyrics and melody made it impossible for white Americans and politicians to continue to ignore the Southern campaign of racist terror. (According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, between 1882 and 1968, mobs lynched 4,743 persons in the United States, over 70 percent of them African Americans.)

 The lyrics read, in part: “Southern trees bear a strange fruit | Blood on the leaves and blood at the root | Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze | Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

 Adapted from notes by Independent Lens for the film Strange Fruit.

 Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of Strange Fruit by Abel Meeropol was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.

Glorious Mahalia (2017)
Stacy Garrop (b. 1969)

Voice of Studs Terkel courtesy of the Estate of Studs Terkel. Voice of Mahalia Jackson courtesy of the Estate of Mahalia Jackson. Studs Terkel Radio Archive, courtesy Chicago History Museum and WFMT Radio Network.

Stacy Garrop is a freelance composer whose music is centered on dramatic and lyrical storytelling. Garrop has received the Barlow Prize, a Fromm Music Foundation grant, three Barlow Endowment commissions, and the Sackler Music Composition Prize, along with prizes from competitions sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Omaha Symphony, New England Philharmonic, Boston Choral Ensemble, Utah Arts Festival, and Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. Theodore Presser Company publishes her chamber and orchestral works; she self-publishes her choral pieces under Inkjar Publishing Company. She is a recording artist with Cedille Records with pieces on nine CDs; her works are also commercially available on ten additional labels. She is currently serving as Composer-in-Residence with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, sponsored by New Music USA and the League of American Orchestras. 

Stacy Garrop’s Glorious Mahalia was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Carnegie Hall, with support from David Harrington Research and Development Fund. The composer provided the following notes:

Louis ‘Studs’ Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and oral historian, hosted a daily nationally syndicated radio broadcast show from Chicago’s WFMT station from 1952 to 1997. Studs’ curious, inquisitive nature led him to interview people from all walks of life over the course of his career. For WFMT alone, he conducted over 5,000 interviews. Before he worked for WFMT, Studs had a radio program called ‘The Wax Museum’ on WENR in Chicago. It was on this radio network that Studs first featured the glorious voice of Mahalia Jackson.

Studs heard Mahalia sing for the first time around 1946. He was in a record store in Chicago when Mahalia’s voice rang out over the store’s speakers. Studs was captivated; he had to meet the woman who possessed that remarkable voice. At that time, Mahalia was gaining fame as a singer of gospels and spirituals in black churches both within Chicago and out of it, as she did a fair amount of touring around the country. Outside of these black communities, however, Mahalia wasn’t yet known. With a little sleuthing, Studs discovered where she regularly sang, at the Greater Salem Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago. Studs went to the church, introduced himself to Mahalia, and invited her to sing on his radio program. Studs and Mahalia developed a close friendship over the ensuing decades, and they occasionally worked together professionally. As Mahalia rose to international fame and became known as the greatest gospel singer of her time, she and Studs never lost contact.

In researching WFMT’s Studs Terkel Radio Archive, I found several broadcasts when Studs featured Mahalia Jackson and her recordings on his show. Two broadcasts in particular stood out. The first broadcast occurred in 1963, when the pair sat down for a conversation that covered a wide range of topics, including Mahalia’s experiences of working in the South, the continuing hardships she faced being a woman of color, and the civil rights efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and many others (including Mahalia, who was a staunch supporter of Dr. King). The second broadcast dates from 1957; it features Mahalia performing a number of gospels and spirituals for a live audience at a hotel in Chicago. In crafting my composition, I decided to highlight many of the salient points of Studs’ and Mahalia’s 1963 discussion, with a musical performance from the 1957 concert featured prominently in the work.

Glorious Mahalia consists of five movements. In movement 1, Mahalia discusses the origin and meaning of the spiritual Hold on. In Stave in the ground (movement 2), she and Studs talk about the work she did when living in the South, and the continuing prejudice she faces. This is followed by a more heated discussion between Studs and Mahalia in Are you being treated right (movement 3). The fourth movement features Mahalia’s soulful performance of the spiritual Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. The piece concludes with This world will make you think (movement 5), in which Mahalia speaks of her hope that we can unite as one nation.

Kronos Quartet commissioned Glorious Mahalia for Carnegie Hall’s The 60’s: The Years That Changed America concert series. I wish to thank Kronos Quartet’s violinist David Harrington for suggesting Mahalia Jackson’s interviews with Studs Terkel as the topic for the piece, as well as Tony Macaluso, Director of the WFMT Radio Network and the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, and Allison Schein, Archivist for the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, for their help in locating and securing my chosen broadcasts within the Archive.

–Stacy Garrop

For the Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association:

Janet Cowperthwaite, Managing Director

Mason Dille, Development Manager

Sarah Donahue, Production Operations Manager

Lauren Frankel, Development Associate

Scott Fraser, Senior Sound Designer

Sasha Hnatkovich, Communications Manager

Reshena Liao, Strategic Initiatives Project Manager

Nikolás McConnie-Saad, Office Manager

Brian Mohr, Sound Designer, Technical Manager

Kären Nagy, Strategic Initiatives Director

Brian H. Scott, Lighting Designer

Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association
P. O. Box 225340
San Francisco, CA 94122-5340 USA

The Kronos Quartet records for Nonesuch Records.

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