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Kronos Quartet “Fifty for the Future” at Studio Trilogy

The Kronos Quartet has launched "Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire," a string quartet commission

The Kronos Learning Repertoire Offered Free

The Kronos Quartet is pictured at Studio Trilogy in San Francisco.

The Kronos Quartet has launched “Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire,” a string quartet commissioning, performance, education, and legacy project of unprecedented scope and global impact.

“So far, we’ve recorded eight pieces at Trilogy,” commented David Harrington, Kronos founder, artistic director and violinist. “We’re in the first year right now, so there are 40 more pieces that we’re going to be recording and hopefully we’ll be doing that at Trilogy because it’s a wonderful place for us to work. It’s just exactly the right size, and the staff is terrific. We feel we can do some of our best work there.”

Drawing on more than forty years of collaborations with prominent and emerging composers from around the world, Kronos is commissioning a library of fifty works designed to guide young amateur and early-career professional string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire.

“We perform, record and publish the music and make it available to other players throughout the world, free of charge, on our website,” added Harrington. “Whatever comes up in the music that is being written for us, we’re able to accomplish it at the Trilogy. The clarity of the sound and the immediacy is exactly what we want for this music. We are creating a mosaic of musical possibilities by enlisting the talent and the energy of 25 women and 25 men composers from every corner of the musical world, and we’re trying to get the most gripping, wonderful, wild, beautiful, passionate music that is possible to create for the next generation of quartet players. We feel like we’ve got the perfect team with our recording engineer Laura Dean, Minna Choi and everybody at Trilogy.”

“Two violins, a viola, and a cello are the basis of this project, but there are also quite a number of unusual instruments being recorded,” explained recording engineer Laura Dean.  “For example a piece by Canadian composer Nicole Lizée called ‘Darkness is Not Well Lit’ is intended to be played through large box ventilation fans. At different points the fans are turned on and off and they’re adjusted to higher and lower speeds. Trilogy’s Alex Spencer was assisting me and he was a huge help recording the sound of the fans. We created a range of different samples to lay on top of what the quartet played. We then used a tremolo effect to get what it would sound like if somebody were playing an instrument and you were on the other side of the fan. If you’ve ever sung into a fan you know what that sound is like, a wavering tremolo — that was the idea with that piece.”

Dean notes some of the microphones used. “We had Neumann M269s for the violins and viola, and M49 on cello with Manley preamps that are nice for those types of instruments, just to warm it up a little bit. The Kronos players also brought their own Countryman lavalier mics that they tape to their instruments when they’re playing live. Normally I don’t use those in a mix, but we did bring them in to get a lot of extra detail or grit for Tanya Tagaq’s piece ‘Sivunittinni.’ She’s a throat singer so there’s a lot of overtones involved and circular breathing and it’s a very nuanced type of singing. She sang her composition as it’s intended for voice, and then, with arranger Jacob Garchik, the quartet reinvented it for strings. They played this composition as a quartet that is mimicking what she does when she’s vocalizing. Kronos did a lot of circular bowing and more extended techniques. It sounds like somebody throat singing basically. For that piece it was great to have those very harsh, close mics to capture all that detail.”

Dean elaborates on the sessions at Trilogy: “Every time I’ve worked at Trilogy everyone has been very accommodating, especially given the experimental nature of these pieces. They are very helpful in changing the setup at the last minute to accommodate a particular inspiration. Alex helped a lot by specifically documenting where all the microphones were placed, all of the settings, even measurements between mics and between different players so that we could make sure we had a very consistent setup, especially when we’re moving stuff around. They were also very helpful in getting us equipment that we needed to maintain continuity between sessions. I love working at Trilogy. I think everyone that works there is really amazing, very professional, very laid-back but also very helpful. It’s just always been such a pleasure to work there.”

Each of the fifty works will be an artistically complete composition that will be premiered by Kronos with the entire Fifty for the Future body of work becoming a core component of its own repertoire over five performance seasons (2015/2016 through 2019/2020). Digital versions of the scores and parts, recordings, and other pedagogical materials for each work can be accessed on the website free of charge.

Located in the creative heart of San Francisco, Studio Trilogy is a full-service recording facility that provides music recording and audio post-production services in a World Class recording environment. Designed by John Storyk of WSDG, Trilogy’s 8800 square foot facility houses three state-of-the-art control rooms, music and voice recording studios, multiple lounges, and a lush garden/bbq area. An on-site 1200 sq.ft. luxury apartment with media lounge and chef’s kitchen is also available.

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