Just as California is set to emerge from the first tier of pandemic restrictions, the Kronos Quartet is set to fly off the starting line with a new edition of their now-annual Kronos Festival, June 11–18. The festival is offered virtually, with the inclusion of films as well as performances. The nearly legendary quartet is offering music and collaborators that will be familiar to fans of the group, but it’s a refreshing way to usher in the summer festival season anyway.
One highlight of this year’s edition will be Ellen Reid’s SOUNDWALK, a self-guided, GPS-enabled public artwork, which will make its Bay Area debut in Golden Gate Park on June 12. As conceived by the composer, After downloading a free app, the user’s journey is dictated by location, triggering a live, overlapping mix of musical motives and works performed by Kronos Quartet and other musicians, all recorded from home in 2020 during the lockdown. The music is curated to harmonize with the park’s landscape and attractions with musical “Easter eggs” hidden throughout.
Conceived prior to but created during the pandemic, Ellen Reid says, “I hope SOUNDWALK will inspire us and make us feel connected to something larger than ourselves. It is meant to serve as artistic nourishment - a place to recharge, reconnect, and re-energize.” SOUNDWALK has already been seen in parks around the country, and the app can be downloaded from the dedicated site: ellenreidsoundwalk.com/download
As always, the Kronos Festival will include world premieres, 10 of them, including music by current Kronos favorites Sahba Aminikia, Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté, Nicole Lizée, Soo Yeon Lyuh, Mahsa Vahdat, and Vân-Ánh Võ. Stylistic versatility and political/ social engagement are key to the quartet, and these works are in that vein. So for example, program 2 (Wed. June 16) includes Aminikia’s arrangement of “Kavuki,” a Kurdish love song; Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté’s Dulen, filmed in Mali with her daughter Rokia Kouyaté; and Vietnamese composer/multi-instrumentalist Vân-Ánh Võ’s Adrift. A brief Library of Congress film about the Gullah-Geechee culture of coastal Georgia is followed by composer/trumpeter Charlton Singleton’s Testimony, inspired by his childhood experience of Gullah-Geechee sacred music traditions. Frank Zappa’s spiky None of the Above, written for Kronos, is featured in an excerpt from Alex Winter’s documentary Zappa. Completing the program are three Kronos classics: George Crumb’s “God-music” from Black Angels; Aleksandra Vrebalov’s My Desert, My Rose; and Terry Riley’s “One Earth, One People, One Love” from Sun Rings.
A new part of the festival, derived from Kronos’s experience working with the SF Girls Chorus, is a program simply titled Kids! This is a 30-minute collection of films including Kronos Makes Sounds With Stuff by composer Danny Clay; 3000 Reefs, with underwater cinematography by Julia Sumerling and music by Aftab Darvishi; Music of the Birds, with music by Sahba Aminikia, featuring the San Francisco Girls Chorus, young people from the Sirkhane Social Circus School, and ornithologists from the Smithsonian Institution and around the country; “Funtukuru”, a song by Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté; Chebiyat Muqam – Third Dastan, a traditional melody arranged by Wu Man and performed by young musicians from Oakland School for the Arts and Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts; and Bill Steele’s humorous environmental anthem “Garbage,” made famous by Pete Seeger and performed by singer Lee Knight with Kronos.
Check the festival website for the full details on programs and how/where to stream events.