Friday, February 10, 2012

Kronos Quartet and the Music of Vladimir Martynov

By Stefan Aune

The Kronos Quartet is one of the more visible and respected modern string quartets, active since 1973 and tirelessly commissioning and performing music across genre boundaries. From African music to jazz, salsa to Jimi Hendrix, the quartet's willingness to move outside the boundaries of classical music has endeared them to a much wider audience than the average string quartet. In addition to their willingness to perform all styles of music, the Kronos Quartet has commissioned more than 750 contemporary works from some of my personal favorites like Phillip Glass and Terry Riley. Their latest release, "Music of Vladimir Martynov," features works by one of the most interesting contemporary composers you may have never heard of, Vladimir Martynov.

The Kronos Quartet
Vladimir Martynov was born into the former Soviet Union in 1946, the son of a respected musicologist. Martynov studied at the Moscow Conservatory, employing the 12-tone music technique and progressing into avante-garde and electronic composition. Martynov also developed an interest in ethnomusicology, studying the musical traditions of different Russian ethnic groups as well as ancient Russian religious chanting. He was involved in the 1970's Russian brand of minimalist composition that favored static, religiously inspired timeless composition over the more dynamic American brand of minimalism employed by the likes of Steve Reich.

Vladimir Martynov
Martynov's interest in time and history has influenced his different works, which often reference ancient Christian themes, mythology (such as the King Arthur stories), and the passage of time, exemplified by a work titled Opus Posthumun that begins with a new born baby's first cry and ends with the person's last breath. In 2009 the London Philharmonic premiered his opera Vita Nuova, and Martynov has also written and published in the fields of music theory, history, and philosophy.

Kronos Quartet's new CD: Music of Vladimir Martynov
 Martynov's compositions commissioned for the latest Kronos Quartet release include a re-scoring of his 1998 work The Beatitudes, Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished), and Der Abschied. The Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) is influenced by Schubert's String Quartet in C Major, which uses two cellos, allowing Kronos Quartet to reunite with its former cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. In it Martynov goes backwards in time, meeting Schubert and then extending his thought into a modern composition that highlights the power found in the interaction of two cellos. Der Abschied is a tribute to Martynov's father, and the piece replicates his father's difficult final breaths through its use of repetition.

The Kronos Quartet during their double-cello performance
Be sure to check out the Nonesuch Records website for sound samples of this exciting new CD. You can also visit the Kronos Quartet website to see if they are playing a city near you, as well as browse the store and pick up Music of Vladimir Martynov on either CD or digital download.

David Harrington of Kronos Quarter discusses the recent collaboration with Vladimir Martynov

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