Kronos Quartet Debuts Student Compositions

This post is by Lisa Driscoll, a Sophomore Vocal Performance and Broadcast Journalism double major. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

David Harrington of Kronos Quartet and Joel Pierson

David Harrington and Joel Pierson photo by Cara Fleck

Soaring string melodies and heavy-metal riffs collided in a showcase of virtuoso performers and student composers on Thursday, April 2. After rehearsing with the Grammy award-winning Kronos Quartet in San Francisco eight months earlier, graduate composition students Alexandra (Lexi) Bryant, Jonathan Graybill and Joel Pierson got to hear their pieces come together at the Clarice Smith Center.

The first half of the show was treated as a rehearsal in which Kronos played through each piece and allowed students to critique their interpretation afterward. Even this setting was new for the quartet. Violinist David Harrington joked, “it’s not often that we get applauded for our rehearsals.” After intermission, the quartet played through the pieces a second time.

Each piece brought out a different strength within the group. Graybill’s five-movement work Windows in Time shows the cyclical nature of time with the interval of a third and depicted the “degeneration process” with stylized slides, or glissandos. Pierson’s Route 666, described in the program notes as “like Highway to Hell for a string quartet,” completely changed the mood of the performance. The 1980s inspired piece brought out the heavy metal guitarist in Jeffrey Ziegler, who aggressively bowed the guitar riffs on his cello.

Bryant brought the tone back to a more contemplative spirit with her piece, i said to my soul. Inspired by the Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot, the piece shows reflection through echo effects on the instruments, contrasting movements and a sustained, repetitive legato violin motive.

When it was time to critique, most composers suggested the performers try different tempos or clarified certain markings in their scores. Kronos members also offered their advice regarding notation.

Only a setting like this would allow a performance to be grounded in the original intention of the composers and interpreted by musicians who bring a fresh and professional perspective.