The Aga Khan Music Initiative and the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet have inaugurated a pioneering musical collaboration that brings the quartet together with leading musicians from Azerbaijan and Afghanistan to compose, arrange, and perform new music rooted in Central Asian tradition. Founded 35 years ago, Kronos is celebrated for its singular commitment to expanding the range and context of the string quartet. In 2008, the AKMICA-Kronos collaboration will produce two music programmes, and world premieres of both programmes have already been booked by leading arts presenting organisations. The first programme, featuring compositions by Homayoun Sakhi for Afghan rubab, tabla, and string quartet, is to be premiered at the Yerba Buena Arts Center Festival in San Francisco on 2 August, 2008. The second programme, featuring works for the Kronos Quartet and the Alim Qasimov Ensemble, is scheduled to open the Ramadan Nights series at the Barbican Arts Centre in London on 26 September, 2008.
The Kronos Quartet's efforts to build bridges between Western classical music and diverse musical traditions from around the world has resulted in numerous collaborations with composers and performers who are highly regarded in their own countries or cultures, yet all but unknown in mainstream Western music. Kronos's CDs, released on the prestigious Nonesuch label, a division of Warner Brothers Records, and intensive international touring schedule have introduced many exceptional artists to young audiences eager to broaden their musical horizons.
The Quartet's superb musicianship, devotion to cross-cultural musical innovation, and large international audience base are well suited to the kind of artistic collaboration that AKMICA seeks to develop in its efforts to introduce leading Central Asian performers to listeners beyond the region. Kronos's founder and artistic director, violinist David Harrington, first approached AKMICA after listening to CDs of Homayun Sakhi and Alim Qasimov released in the AKMICA-Smithsonian Folkways Music of Central Asia series. Harrington proposed a project in which Kronos would develop new compositions with both Sakhi and Qasimov based on traditional material from Afghan and Azerbaijani music.
The Azerbaijani component of the project features the voices of Alim Qasimov and his daughter, Fargana, members of Qasimov's instrumental ensemble, and the four Kronos players. The Afghan component features Homayun Sakhi on Afghan rubab and Salar Nader on tabla performing with the Quartet. Recordings of the compositions and arrangements produced through these artistic collaborations will be released both on AKMICA’s Music of Central Asia CD-DVD series, and on the Nonesuch label, with which Kronos has had a long association. AKMICA and Kronos Arts will also collaborate in the production of concerts and media projects featuring new works rooted in Central Asian tradition.
For more than 30 years, the Kronos Quartet – David Harrington, John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola) and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello) – has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to expanding the range and context of the string quartet. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential ensembles of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 40 recordings of extraordinary breadth and commissioning hundreds of works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos’ work has also garnered numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
Kronos’ adventurous, eclectic repertoire encompasses works by 20th-century masters (Bartók, Shostakovich, Webern), contemporary composers (Sofia Gubaidulina, Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke), jazz legends (Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk), and artists from even farther afield (rock guitar hero Jimi Hendrix, Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath, and avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn). Integral to Kronos’ work is a series of long-running, in-depth collaborations with many of the world’s foremost composers, including Americans Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich; Azerbaijan’s Franghiz Ali-Zadeh; Poland’s Henryk Górecki, and Argentina’s Osvaldo Golijov. Additional collaborators from around the world have included the legendary Bollywood “playback singer” Asha Bhosle; the renowned American soprano Dawn Upshaw; Mexican rockers Café Tacuba; the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks; and the unbridled British cabaret trio, the Tiger Lillies.
The Quartet spends five months of each year on tour, appearing in the world’s most prestigious concert halls, clubs and festivals. Kronos is equally prolific on CD, with a discography on Nonesuch Records including Pieces of Africa (1992), a showcase of African-born composers that simultaneously topped Billboard’s Classical and World Music lists; Nuevo (2002), a Grammy- and Latin Grammy–nominated celebration of Mexican culture; and the 2003 Grammy-winner, Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite.
Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia
The Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA) was created by His Highness the Aga Khan to contribute to the preservation, documentation, and further development of Central Asia’s musical heritage. The Music Initiative pursues its long-term goals both within its region of activity and worldwide. In Central Asia these goals include revitalizing important musical repertoires by helping tradition-bearers pass on their knowledge and craft; building sustainable cultural institutions that can eventually be maintained by local organizations and communities; and supporting artists who are developing new approaches to the performance of Central Asian music. Worldwide, the Music Initiative strives to increase knowledge about Central Asia’s music and culture, particularly among students, and to nurture collaborations among musicians from different parts of Central Eurasia and beyond. The Music Initiative is a programme of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The Trust promotes the cultural mission of the Aga Khan Development Network and focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalization of communities in the Muslim world.
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