Friday, November 14, 2008

Kronos' Spacey Treat

[Concert review] San Francisco's Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet--David Harrington, John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola) and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello)--made a stop at Kingsbury Hall Nov. 13, teaming up with the University of Utah Singers to present Sun Rings, a 10-movement, 85-minute multimedia work written by Terry Riley. The production included the pre-recorded chirping, whistling and buzzing sounds of outer space recorded by NASA from its Voyager expeditions.

Fantastic grainy images illuminated the backdrop behind the quartet with photos and illustrations of mechanical drawings, equations on a blackboard, a spinning spaceship, black heavens dusted with diamondlike stars, closeups of Jupiter's red and orange swirls, and an assorted grab bag of colorful heavenly phenomena.

The idea was that we were on a journey with Kronos traveling through space, exploring "exotic atmospheres."

There was a lot to take in visually and auditorily. I found myself straining to hear the pure space sounds which until this performance, I didn't know existed. Yet the live music and other pre-recorded sounds competed, making them indistinct. It was sort of like someone was playing a high-tech video game while Kronos Quartet performed a beautiful composition.

The role of the choir seemed similarly understated. The U of U Singers did a great job but the chorus parts seem restrained (which was further underscored by the Singers' positioning in the orchestra pit; we just saw their heads appearing at the bottom of the stage).

In a way, there was so much going on that no one element jumped out. Perhaps that was an intended effect. From the heavens, we humans appear insignificant in spite of all our sound and fury. There are no superstars, no paupers, just a cacophony of voices filling the skies (as in "Prayer Central") beseeching our creator for mercy and blessings.

The work ended with “One Earth, One People, One Love," a haunting piece in which Alice Walker’s voice forms the refrain. We saw a spinning Earth from outer space, its human beings, animals, insects, even a spinning top which inevitably loses its momentum and wobbles off its course. We came back to ourselves to see our place in the grand scheme of things and draw our own conclusions.

I found Sun Rings beautiful, meditative and melancholy: Not only do we live on a lonely planet but in a lonely universe, so here is some sweet music to accompany the journey. My companion said it was so relaxing for him, he nodded off a couple of times. Another couple I know ate magic brownies before arriving and simply proclaimed the performance "amazing." I guess it's just what we bring to it. Sort of symphonic Rorschach. (Jerre Wroble)

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