Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Kronos Quartet

Paul Posnak
For the past several years Mary and I have been Season Ticket holders for what has to be one of the best concert bargains in Orange County: The Community Concert Series of Laguna Woods.  Not only do you get six two-hour, world class, concerts, you often find yourself sitting next to an aging world-class performer, now residing in the gated, retired community, anxious to vicariously relive their performing life through listening to a contemporary.  How often do you have a stranger comment, “I’m glad they got a new piano.”

There is a heavy classical slant to the shows, but once in a while there is unexpected variety.  Such was the case a couple weeks ago, when we saw and heard Paul Posnak.  Dr. Posnak received a full scholarship to Julliard at the age of eight, and continued through a major portion of his life to study there, receiving a degree and eventually a doctorate from the prestigious school.

He has performed with honors throughout the world, including performances at the White House, Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center.  While I had never heard of him, this was a repeat performance at Laguna Woods and he played to a full, three-hundred seat house.

His claim to fame is his ability to transcribe improvisations by ear and he has recorded many of the performances.  He treated us to two of his favorites: the RCA Victor recording from the 1930s, where George Gershwin recorded what he played at impromptu cocktail parties; when he would start after dinner and play until breakfast time.  Although there existed sheet music of such pieces as” I Got Rhythm” and “Oh, Lady Be Good”, when Gershwin played them, they were filled with nuance and improvisations beyond popular ability to play.  So, when Posnak transcribed them, we are treated to a demonstration of what it would have been like to be in that party.  In a similar manner he played for us several of the slide piano pieces of “Fats” Waller.

And that was just the second half of the show.

In the first half, he demonstrated his classical training by playing pieces by Chopin and Mozart.  His musical memory is indeed impressive as I never saw him with a piece of music throughout the show.

Kronos Quartet - 2005
So, how does this relate to the Kronos Quartet?  Mostly because this classically-trained group refused to be bound by the classical motif. I recently heard an NPR piece on the celebration of their fortieth anniversary, which they celebrated with a performance in Seattle where the group began in 1973, and with a sold-out concert at U C Berkley, close to their base-ops in San Francisco.

Through the years the group has featured numerous compositions from such diverse artists as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Sigur Rios including such genres as Mexican Folk, Romanian Gypsy, movie soundtracks and television. They have performed with artists such as, David Bowie, Bjork, Dave Matthews, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and even Allen Ginsberg.

While they are unique in that they had the longest run with the same artists of any group: from 1979 to 1999 the quartet included founder Dave Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola, and Joan Jeanrenaud on cello, their major distinction is bringing back the magic of early chamber music, when the music was a vehicle for new and young composers.  Several years ago they established an endowment for composers under the age of thirty, the Under-Thirty Award which has been given to both American and international composers.  Their reason for establishing the award was in recognition of the more than 750 pieces that composers wrote exclusively for them.

I think I saw the Kronos Quartet twice since their beginning: once in the Bay Area, probably in Oakland, but possibly in Berkley; the second while I was stationed in Washington DC in the early eighties.  I hope someday to have a third opportunity.

There is an email running around about how often do we use Algebra.  In my next post I think I’ll revisit the Elements.  I hope you will join me.

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