At 40, Kronos Quartet Is Still Pushing Boundaries

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The Kronos Quartet recently played its first concert of 2013, a year that marks the group’s 40th anniversary, at the Napa Valley Opera House. The night’s program by this famously genre-stretching, culture-swapping string quartet pushed the boundaries of traditional and experimental music and so blew me away that I was compelled to reach out to founder David Harrington to chat about the group’s origins, cross-cultural mashups, and music as activism.

Mother Jones: With the work that you do, playing new music from some unheard composers and others that are constantly innovating, I’ve sort of come to think of Kronos Quartet as musical activists. What do you think about that?

David Harrington: I feel honored to be called an activist. It stems from the work that I want to do and the function of being a group in our time and in our culture. To me the two violins, a viola, and a cello create an almost infinitely moldable sound. As a force in society it can tackle all sorts of issues. The other night you heard music from Syria, India, Serbia, and a lot of places that you wouldn’t normally think of string quartet music necessarily coming from. I’ve spent my entire 39-plus years at Kronos trying to extend the reach of music and bring elements into the work that maybe hadn’t been considered before.

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At 40, Kronos Quartet Is Still Pushing Boundaries

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