Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet at Lincoln Center, 2013, photo by Sachyn Mital
Background information
Origin Seattle, Washington, United States
Genres Contemporary classical
Occupation(s) Chamber ensemble
Years active 1973–present
Labels Nonesuch/Elektra, Cantaloupe
Members David Harrington
John Sherba
Hank Dutt
Sunny Yang
Past members Jim Shallenberger
Tim Killian
Walter Gray
Roy Lewis
Joan Jeanrenaud
Jennifer Culp
Jeffrey Zeigler

The Kronos Quartet is an American string quartet based in San Francisco. They have been in existence with a rotating membership of musicians for over forty years. The quartet specializes in contemporary classical music, with more than 750 works having been written for them.


The quartet was founded by violinist David Harrington in Seattle, Washington. Its first performance was in November 1973.[1] Since 1978, the quartet has been based in San Francisco, California. The longest-running combination of performers (from 1978 to 1999) had Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola, and Joan Jeanrenaud on cello. In 1999, Joan Jeanrenaud left Kronos because she was "eager for something new";[2] she was replaced by Jennifer Culp[3] who, in turn, left in 2005 and was replaced by Jeffrey Zeigler. In June 2013, Zeigler was replaced by Sunny Yang.[4] With almost forty studio albums to their credit and having performed worldwide, they were called "probably the most famous 'new music' group in the world"[5] and were praised in philosophical studies of music for the inclusiveness of their repertoire.[6]

By the time the quartet celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary in 1999, they had a repertoire of over 600 works, which included 400 string quartets written for them, more than 3,000 performances, seven first-prize ASCAP awards, Edison Awards in classical and popular music, and had sold more than 1.5 million records.[7]

30th anniversary

When Kronos turned 30, in 2003, they decided on a commissioning process for composers under the age of 30, in the hope of bringing some of the talented young composers to light. The program, called the Under 30 Project, is now run in cooperation with Carnegie Hall, Cal Performances at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Montalvo Arts Center. The first recipient was Alexandra du Bois (at the time a student at Indiana University, later a Juilliard School graduate),[8] followed by Felipe Perez Santiago (born in Mexico in 1973),[9] and Dan Visconti (born in Illinois in 1982);[10] in 2007, Israeli composer Aviya Kopelman became the fourth.[11]

40th anniversary

To celebrate the fortieth year of the organization, the Kronos Quartet decided to return to Seattle, the city in which they first played, and work in collaboration with Seattle's Degenerate Art Ensemble to create a piece incorporating music, dance and video.[1] They celebrated their 40th anniversary with a sold-out performance at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, in December 2013. The same year, Michael Giacchino, a soundtrack composer who often names his pieces with puns, published a piece named after them as a part of the soundtrack to Star Trek Into Darkness (the name of the piece is "The Kronos Wartet"), for a scene that takes place on the fictional planet "Kronos"[12] (also spelled "Qo'noS").

New music/contemporary classical

Kronos specializes in new music/contemporary classical music and has a long history of commissioning new works. Over 750 works have been created for the Kronos Quartet.[1] They have worked with many minimalist composers including John Adams, Arvo Pärt, George Crumb, Henryk Górecki, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Kevin Volans; collaborators hail from a diversity of countries – Kaija Saariaho from Finland, Pēteris Vasks from Latvia, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh from Azerbaijan, Homayun Sakhi from Afghanistan, Victoria Vita Polevá from Ukraine and Fernando Otero,[13] Astor Piazzolla,[14] and Osvaldo Golijov from Argentina. Some of Kronos' string-quartet arrangements were published in 2007.[15]

Diverse genres

"I've always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life. To tell the story with grace and humor and depth. And to tell the whole story, if possible."
    —David Harrington[16]

Kronos covers a very broad range of musical genres: Mexican folk, experimental, pre-classical early music, movie soundtracks (Requiem for a Dream, Heat, The Fountain), jazz and tango. Kronos has also recorded adaptations of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze", Sigur Rós's "Flugufrelsarinn", Television's "Marquee Moon", Raymond Scott's "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals", and Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right".

Kronos has also worked with a variety of global musicians, including Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle;[17] Mexican-American painter Gronk; American soprano Dawn Upshaw; jazz composer/performer Pat Metheny; Mexican rockers Café Tacuba; Azerbaijani mugam singer Alim Qasimov; and the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks among others.

Kronos has performed live with the poet Allen Ginsberg, Astor Piazzolla, The National, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Björk, and has appeared on recordings with Nelly Furtado, Rokia Traoré, Joan Armatrading, Brazilian electronica artist Amon Tobin, Texas yodeler Don Walser, Faith No More, Tiger Lillies and David Grisman.

On the 1998 Dave Matthews Band album Before These Crowded Streets, Kronos Quartet performed on the tracks "Halloween" and "The Stone". They also appeared on the 2007 Nine Inch Nails remix album, Year Zero Remixed doing a rendition of the track "Another Version of the Truth"". They also performed Lee Brooks' score for the short film 2081, based on the Kurt Vonnegut short story "Harrison Bergeron."

In 2009, the quartet contributed an acoustic version of Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night" for the AIDS benefit album Dark Was the Night produced by the Red Hot Organization.

Awards and recognition

Greeting the audience after a 2005 performance
Le Diapason d'Or de Mai
Rolf Schock Prize
Musical America
Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences
Polar Music Prize
Kronos Quartet recording at BBC Radio, 2012


Published music



On stage with Laurie Anderson, after performing LANDFALL at the Harris Theater on 17 March 2015
  1. 1 2 3 Graves, Jen (13 November 2013). "The Ultimate Collaboration". The Stranger. Seattle, United States. Retrieved 14 November 2013.
  2. Templeton, David (Mar 2004). "Flight of Fancy: The sky is the limit for ex-Kronos cellist Joan Jeanrenaud". Strings. String Letter Publishing. 18 (7): 122.
  3. "News and Notes: People". Strings. String Letter Publishing. 14 (4): 18. Nov–Dec 1999.
  4. "Kronos Quartet Welcomes New Cellist, Sunny Jungin Yang" (Press release). 2013-02-28. Retrieved 2013-06-30.
  5. McCalla, James (2003). Twentieth-century Chamber Music: Routledge Studies in Musical Genres. Routledge. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-415-96695-5.
  6. Bruce Ellis, Benson (2003). The improvisation of musical dialogue: a phenomenology of music. Cambridge University Press. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-521-00932-4.
  7. Richardson, Derk (Jan 1999). "Portrait of a Quartet: The Kronos reaps the rewards of 25 years of not fitting the mold". Strings. String Letter Publishing. 13 (5): 49–57.
  8. Cahill, Greg (Jan 2003). "Kronos@30". Strings. String Letter Publishing. 17 (5): 14.
  9. Sisario, Ben (2003-08-19). "Arts Briefing". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-13.
  10. Martini, Tiffany (June–July 2006). "Sonic Youth: Kronos Quartet gears up for new round of composition contest". Strings. String Letter Publishing. 21 (1): 18.
  11. "Aviya Kopelman Commissioned Through Kronos: Under 30 Project". MusicalAmerica. 2007-03-15.
  13. Vivian Schweitzer (February 25, 2008). "Music Review: Kronos Quartet - Premieres Range in Palette From Balkans to Argentina". The New York Times.
  14. Adam Greenberg (February 2001). "Five Tango Sensations-Kronos Quartet Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards All Music". All Music Guide.
  15. Silberman, Daryl (Oct 2007). "First Edition: Kronos finally publishes its highly coveted string-quartet arrangements". Strings. String Letter Publishing. 22 (3): 90.
  16. Yaple, Carol. "Four Hundred Candles: The Creation of a Repertoire". Kronos Quartet. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  17. Kettle, David (December 2005). "Kronos Quartet/Asha Boshle (singer)". The Strad. 116 (1388): 86.
  18. Mattison, Ben (2002-12-13). "Kronos Quartet Named Musical America's Musicians of the Year for 2003". Andante. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  19. "The Laureates of the Polar Music Prize 2011 are Kronos Quartet & Patti Smith". 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
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