Kronos Quartet commemorates WWI


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The velvety echo of a violin and the thunder of a bomb. The mellow tune of a cello and the shrill of a missile. Though usually perceived as contrasting media, these sounds come together in a union of calm and clamor, film, and music, to illustrate the story of a war long over.

In a new multimedia performance, the award-winning Kronos Quartet worked with composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, visual artist Drew Cameron, and filmmaker Bill Morrison, to commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I in Beyond Zero: 1914-1918.

“[Vrebalov] is from Serbia, where World War I actually began,” Kronos violinist David Harrington said. “And it just seemed to me she could provide some sort of musical impetus that nobody else I know could. Then she and Morrison went to the National Archives and various World War I archives around Europe, and he made a film to the music that Aleksandra wrote.” 

Presented by Hancher, the ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St.

The Kronos Quartet consists of Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola, and Sunny Yang on cello. Combined with an innate curiosity, the members really wanted to tell a story, Harrington said.

“A lot of the music that Kronos played, especially in the very earliest years of our work … was written by composers who were very active during that time period,” he said. “If you think of so many aspects of music that have influenced Kronos, it seemed to be like a really good occasion to reinvestigate some of the music that has been very influential on our work.”

While this is not the first time Kronos has performed with film, Harrington said Beyond Zero provided them with an opportunity to work with 100-year-old archival footage that was deteriorating and distressed, yet full of life.

“What were trying to do is give people a sense of what happened and that there was this incredible thing going on that few of know much about,” he said. “I’m not sure anybody can do justice to the fact that so many millions of young people died in that war. What we can try to do is create an experience that will give people a sense of that and maybe there is a way we can avoid it in the future.”

Harrington said that Iowa City is one of the quartet’s favorite places to perform, calling it “the San Francisco of the Midwest.” Between 1988 and 2002, Kronos performed 15 times in Hancher seasons. 

Hancher Marketing Director Rob Cline said he is delighted to welcome the group back.

“They are an amazing and adventuresome ensemble,” he said. “Their musicianship is impeccable, and their desire to try new things seems boundless.”

Hancher Programming Director Jacob Yarrow said that when booking performers, he looks for those who can inspire audiences — a qualification he said Kronos Quartet fulfills.

“The performance will be moving and powerful,” he said. “The music and film create a visceral experience that will pull artists and audiences together and connect us to one of the defining events of world history.”

Kronos Quartet with Beyond Zero: 1914-1918
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7
Where: Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $10 to $37

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