About the Music

Terry Riley (b. 1935)
Good Medicine
from Salome Dances for Peace (1985-86)

Terry Riley first came to prominence in 1964 when he subverted the world of tightly organized atonal composition then in fashion. With the groundbreaking In C—a work built upon steady pulse throughout, simple repeated melodic motives, and static harmonies—Riley achieved an elegant and non-nostalgic return to tonality. In demonstrating the hypnotic allure of complex musical patterns made of basic means, he produced the seminal work of the so-called “minimal” school.

Riley’s facility for complex pattern-making is the product of his virtuosity as a keyboard improviser. He quit formal composition following In C in order to concentrate on improvisation, and in the late 1960s and early ’70s he became known for weaving dazzlingly intricate skeins of music from improvisations on organ and synthesizer. At this time, Riley also devoted himself to studying North Indian vocal techniques under the legendary Pandit Pran Nath, and a new element entered his music: long-limbed melody. From his work in Indian music, moreover, he became interested in the subtle distinctions of tuning that would be hard to achieve with a traditional classical ensemble.

Riley began notating music again in 1979, expressly at David Harrington’s request, when both he and the Kronos Quartet were on the faculty at Mills College in Oakland. By collaborating with Kronos, he discovered that his various musical passions could be integrated, not as pastiche, but as different sides of similar musical impulses that still maintained something of the oral performing traditions of India and jazz. Riley’s first quartets were inspired by his keyboard improvisations, but his knowledge of string quartets became more sophisticated through his work with Kronos, combining rigorous compositional ideas with a more performance-oriented approach. Kronos’ long relationship with Riley has produced over 25 new works.

Good Medicine is the last section of Salome Dances for Peace, an epic, two-hour-long string quartet. About Salome Riley has said:

“The idea for Salome Dances for Peace came out of an improvisation theme from The Harp of New Albion. I realized this was potentially a whole new piece. Around that time, David Harrington called me and asked me to write another string quartet.

“I thought that it should be a ballet about Salome using her alluring powers to actually create peace in the world. So Salome in this case becomes like a goddess who—drawn out of antiquity, having done evil kinds of deeds—reincarnates and is trained as a sorceress, as a shaman. And through her dancing, she is able to become both a warrior and an influence on the world leaders’ actions.

“I’m always trying to find ways that I can, besides doing music, to contribute to world peace, or maybe neighborhood peace or home peace. I told David that when we first started that I thought we ought to create a piece that can be played at the United Nations on special holidays. It would not be just a concert piece but a piece that could be played as a rite.”

Salome Dances for Peace was commissioned for Kronos by IRCAM and Betty Freeman, and recorded by Kronos for Nonesuch Records.


Sahba Aminikia (b. 1981)
String Quartet No. 3: A Threnody for Those Who Remain (2010)

Born in Iran, composer and pianist Sahba Aminikia studied music composition in Russia at the St. Petersburg State Conservatory under Boris Ivanovich, a student of Dmitri Shostakovich. In his homeland, Aminikia studied under renowned Iranian pianists Safa Shahidi and Gagik Babayan, and was influenced greatly by the work with composer Mehran Rouhani, a student of Michael Tippett and Aminikia’s first teacher.

Aminikia currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying with David Conte and David Garner at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In his work, Aminikia draws influence from jazz, Russian contemporary composition and, most importantly to him, the traditional melodies of Iran. He has received commissions from theater troupes to concert music ensembles, Persian traditional music groups to jazz bands. For more information, visit

About his Third String Quartet, Aminikia writes:

“Around 8:00 A.M. on Sunday, December 20th, 2009, I received a call in San Francisco from my sister in Iran, telling me that my dad had passed away in a car crash on a highway in Tehran on the way home. Shocked and hysterical, I bought a plane ticket for the day after to Frankfurt, and then on to Tehran, where I spent 20 days. After I got back to San Francisco, I had coffee with David Harrington from Kronos to talk about a new project. We both came up with this idea: how strange it is that our loved ones leave us so swiftly and suddenly, and with an ocean of sorrow and grief that lasts until the end of our lives.

“This piece is directly inspired by my trip and what I went through during this journey. The first movement draws from my childhood memories during the 1980s, while Iran was at war with Iraq, right after the Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shāh. This movement is based on a game I used to play with my dad as a kid, basically standing on his feet and having him walk me around the house. This felt like the most enjoyable thing I could do with my dad at that time.

“In the second movement, I gathered material from a typical ritual lamentation ceremony from the southern regions of Iran, where most of the residents are primarily from African and Arabian cultures. The drums (Damām), cymbals and the scream-like human voices (called Kél in this culture) are essential elements of a common lamentation ceremony in Bandar Abbās and Boushehr. This movement is informed by nightmares I had during the flight to back to Tehran.

“The last movement draws from the days I spent in Tehran, where in the early morning, after being awakened by the voices of sparrows, you hear the Azān, the call for morning prayer. The call to prayer I have used in this piece is one of the most symbolic and famous forms of its kind, by Rahim Moazzén-zādéh. It is the symbol of Persianized Islam, as this was the first time Azān had been sung in Persian modes. Although I am not a Muslim myself, the Azān evokes my hometown, and reminds me of this time trying to overcome grief, which still seems like a never-ending pain.

“The piece ends with calls of ‘Allāh-u-akbar’ (God is great), with which the people protested the results of the 2009 presidential election, recorded on the rooftops of Tehran. These are the shouts that I heard all the time at night during my stay."

Sahba Aminikia’s String Quartet No. 3: A Threnody for Those Who Remain was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Kronos Performing Arts Association.


Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980)
Harp and Altar (2009)

Missy Mazzoli, born in Pennsylvania, has had her music performed all over the world by the Minnesota Orchestra, eighth blackbird, South Carolina Philharmonic, Spokane Symphony, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, NOW Ensemble and others. She has been commissioned by Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, the Whitney Museum, Carnegie Hall and the League of Composers/ISCM Orchestra. Mazzoli’s critically acclaimed multi-media chamber opera, Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt, premiered in Brooklyn in 2009.

Mazzoli is a recipient of a Fulbright Grant to the Netherlands, three ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Awards, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and grants from the American Music Center, the Jerome Foundation and the Greenwall Foundation. In 2006 Mazzoli was a featured composer at Merkin Hall (New York) and the Gaudeamus New Music Festival (Amsterdam), and in 2007 she taught beginning composition at Yale University. She is Executive Director of the MATA Festival of New Music in New York, an organization founded by Philip Glass dedicated to commissioning and promoting new works by young composers.

Mazzoli is also an active pianist, and often performs with Victoire, an all-female quintet she founded in 2008, dedicated exclusively to her own compositions. Victoire has performed in venues throughout New York and recently appeared at the 2009 Bang-on-a-Can Marathon. Their debut EP is titled A Door into the Dark.

About Harp and Altar, Mazzoli writes:

Harp and Altar is a love song to the Brooklyn Bridge. The title comes from a poem by Hart Crane, in which he describes the Brooklyn Bridge as ‘that harp and altar of the Fury fused.’ The Borough of Brooklyn is impossible to describe, but the Brooklyn Bridge seems to be an apt symbol for its vastness, its strength and its history. Halfway through the work the vocalist sings fragments of these lines from Crane's poem ‘The Bridge’:

Through the bound cable strands, the arching path
Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings,
Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate
The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.

“Crane lived for some time at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn, in an apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Only after completing his poem did Crane learn that one of its key builders, Washington Roebling, had once lived at the same address. Every day I take long walks around my Brooklyn neighborhood, often ending up at the site of the house where Crane lived when he wrote these lines. In writing this piece for the Kronos Quartet I tried to imagine the Brooklyn Bridge through Crane's eyes, a new monument to technology, a symbol of optimism and faith.

“Many thanks to the Kronos Quartet, Gabriel Kahane, Margaret Dorfman and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund for making this work possible.”

Sampled Vocals by Gabriel Kahane.

Missy Mazzoli's Harp and Altar was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Margaret Dorfman and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund.


Bryce Dessner (b. 1976)
Aheym (2009)

Bryce Dessner is a composer/guitarist/curator based in New York City, best known as the guitarist for the rock band The National. Their albums Alligator (2005) and Boxer (2007) were named albums of the year in publications throughout the world; High Violet was released in 2010. Dessner has received widespread acclaim as a composer and guitarist for the improvising quartet Clogs. He has performed and/or recorded with Sufjan Stevens, Antony Hegarty, Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, Philip Glass, Michael Gordon, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and visual artist Matthew Ritchie, among others. He premiered and recorded 2x5 by Steve Reich in 2009.

As a composer, he is the recipient of a Jerome Grant from the American Composers Forum and the Kitchen (New York), for a full concert of his music in 2007, and a commission from Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary (Vienna) to create a 40-minute spatial sound work for the Morning Line, an outdoor sound pavilion by Matthew Ritchie. He has also received commissions from the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial, and BAM’s Next Wave Festival, for The Long Count, an evening-length work with his brother Aaron Dessner. He composed the score for Turn the River, a film written and directed by Chris Eigman.

Dessner is the creator and artistic director of the Music Now Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the co-founder and owner of the Brassland record label. He and Aaron Dessner recently produced an AIDS charity compilation, Dark Was the Night, for the Red Hot Organization. Dessner serves on the board of The Kitchen, and is a graduate of Yale College and the Yale School of Music.

About Aheym, Dessner writes:

“David Harrington asked me to write a piece for Kronos Quartet for a performance in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I live just two blocks from the park and spend many mornings running around it. The park for me symbolizes much of what I love about New York, especially the stunning diversity of Brooklyn with its myriad cultures and communities. My father’s family, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, also lived near the park for many years in the 1940s and ’50s before moving to Queens. In discussing the new piece, David proposed to perform the work in Brooklyn, and then to retrace the journey of my grandparents and perform it in Lodz, Poland, a city where my great-grandparents lived and through which my grandmother passed on her voyage to America.

“‘Aheym’ means ‘homeward’ in Yiddish, and this piece is written as musical evocation of the idea of flight and passage. As little boys, my brother and I used to spend hours with my grandmother, asking her about the details of how she came to America. She could only give us a smattering of details, but they all found their way into our collective imagination, eventually becoming a part of our own cultural identity and connection to the past. In her poem “Di rayze aheym,” the American-Yiddish poet Irena Klepfisz, a professor at Barnard in New York and one of the few child survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto, writes: “Among strangers is her home. Here right here she must live. Her memories will become monuments.”

Aheym is dedicated to my grandmother, Sarah Dessner.”

Bryce Dessner’s Aheym was written for the Kronos Quartet.


Michael Gordon (b. 1956)
Clouded Yellow (2010)

Michael Gordon was born in Miami Beach, Florida, and raised in Nicaragua in an Eastern European community on the outskirts of Managua. His music, which combines the intensity and power of rock music and his formal composition studies at Yale, has been performed throughout the world. Gordon’s early compositions demonstrate a deep exploration into the possibilities and nature of rhythm and what happens when rhythms are piled on top of each other, creating a glorious confusion.

Gordon’s special interest in adding dimensionality to the concert experience has led to frequent collaborations with artists in other media. In his string orchestra piece Weather, a collaboration with video artist Elliot Caplan, the musicians sit on scaffolding three tiers high. In Gordon’s 2001 multimedia orchestra piece, Decasia, the audience sits on swivel chairs encircled by the orchestra and large projection scrims. In The Carbon Copy Building, an opera collaboration with comic book artist Ben Katchor, Bob McGrath and the Ridge Theater, and the composers David Lang and Julia Wolfe, a projected comic strip accompanies the singers, interacting with each other so that the frames fall away in the telling of this story (the work received the 2000 Village Voice OBIE Award for Best New American Work). More recently, Gordon premiered Gotham at Carnegie's Zankel Hall in February 2004; the work incorporates film, projections, lighting and an orchestra of 35 musicians to explore the 'other' New York City. The Sad Park is Gordon's second string quartet written for Kronos Quartet; the first, Potassium, premiered in 2000.

In 1983, Gordon formed the Michael Gordon Philharmonic—part string quartet, part rock band—which performed his angular tunes and driving rhythms with compelling energy and off-beat humor in concerts worldwide. The latest incarnation of this ensemble, now called the Michael Gordon Band, debuted at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in December 2000. Gordon holds a Bachelor of Arts from New York University and a Masters of Music from the Yale School of Music. He is co-founder of the Bang On a Can Festival, a major force in the presentation of new music. His recordings include Weather (Nonesuch), Trance (Argo), Decasia (Cantaloupe), Lost Objects (Teldec), Big Noise from Nicaragua (CRI) and Light is Calling (Nonesuch).

About Clouded Yellow, Gordon writes:

“Working on this string quartet, I found myself thinking about the Clouded Yellow. This butterfly takes part in mass migrations that are referred to in England as ‘clouded yellow years.’ I love the image of a cloud of bright yellow butterflies, and I think the word ‘clouded’ describes the blurred harmonies and melodies of this piece.

“I imagined the opening harmony to be accordion-like, a syncopated vamp played by the viola and cello. The rhythm, a tugging three over four, flits in and out. I heard some high sighing sounds floating above all of this and gave them to the violins. It was as if I could hear the flapping of butterfly wings. I imagined I was flying around on a butterfly, gliding in the air, the air dense with moisture, like in a rainforest. It was all very free and fanciful, like a travelogue around a garden.

“I tried to feel the thickness of the atmosphere and create a reverberant sound texture. The raw sound of open strings drones in accompaniment to the melody. The C, G and D strings can be heard vibrating in almost all parts of the quartet. And the C string on cello, its lowest note, is used as a pedal point throughout. While I was creating this string quartet I thought about each of the members of Kronos. Their personalities and talents were never far from my consciousness.”

Michael Gordon’s Clouded Yellow was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College. Additional project support was provided by the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund.


Laurie Anderson (b. 1947)
Flow (2010)
Arranged by Jacob Garchik (b. 1976)

Laurie Anderson is one of America’s most renowned – and daring – creative pioneers. Known primarily for her multimedia presentations, she has cast herself in roles as varied as visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, electronics whiz, vocalist, and instrumentalist.

O Superman launched Anderson’s recording career in 1980, rising to number two on the British pop charts and subsequently appearing on Big Science, the first of her seven albums on the Warner Brothers label. In 2001, Anderson released her first record for Nonesuch Records, entitled Life on a String, which was followed by Live in New York, recorded at Town Hall in New York City in September 2001. The original version of “Flow” is the final track on her 2010 Nonesuch album Homeland, and has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental.

Anderson has toured internationally with shows ranging from simple spoken word performances to elaborate multimedia events. She has published six books, and text from Anderson’s solo performances appears in the book Extreme Exposure, edited by Jo Bonney. Anderson has also written the entry for New York for the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Anderson’s visual work has been presented in major museums throughout the United States and Europe. In 2003, The Musée Art Contemporain of Lyon in France produced a touring retrospective of her work, entitled The Record of the Time: Sound in the Work of Laurie Anderson.

As a composer, Anderson has contributed music to films by Wim Wenders and Jonathan Demme; dance pieces by Bill T. Jones, Trisha Brown, Molissa Fenley; and a score for Robert LePage’s theater production Far Side of the Moon. Her most recent orchestra work, Songs for Amelia Earhart, premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2000 performed by the American Composers Orchestra.

Recognized worldwide as a groundbreaking leader in the use of technology in the arts, Anderson collaborated with Interval Research Corporation, a research and development laboratory founded by Paul Allen and David Liddle, in the exploration of new creative tools. In 2002, Anderson was appointed the first artist-in-residence of NASA, out of which she developed her solo performance “The End of the Moon.” Anderson was also part of the team that created the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. In 2007 she received the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for her outstanding contribution to the arts.

Jacob Garchik’s arrangement of Flow by Laurie Anderson was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.


Aleksandra Vrebalov (b. 1970)
…hold me, neighbor, in this storm… (2007)

Aleksandra Vrebalov, a native of the former Yugoslavia, left Serbia in 1995 and continued her education in the United States. She holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan, where she studied with Evan Chambers and Michael Daugherty, and a master’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory, where her teacher was Elinor Armer. She has participated in numerous master classes and workshops, such as the New York University Summer Composition Workshop, Music Courses in Darmstadt (Germany), Szombathely (Hungary) and Kazimierz Dolny (Poland) in collaboration with IRCAM, and the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz, California. She now teaches at the City College of New York.

Vrebalov’s works have been performed by the Kronos Quartet, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Jorge Caballero, the Sausalito Quartet, Dusan Tynek Dance Company, Ijsbreker, and the Moravian Philharmonic, among others. Her music has been recorded for Nonesuch and Vienna Modern Masters.

In 2005, Lila was premiered in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall by violinist Ana Milosavljevic. The premiere of the orchestral work Orbits opened the 30th Novi Sad Music Festivities and was broadcast live on national television, on the NS Channel. The same channel produced a 30-minute television biography of Vrebalov. That year, she also worked on the score for Sleeping Beauty, an experimental film introduced at New York City’s Anthology Film Archives.

About …hold me, neighbor, in this storm…, Vrebalov writes:

“The Balkans, with its multitude of cultural and religious identities, has had a troubled history of ethnic intolerance. For my generation of Tito’s pioneers and children of Communists, growing up in the former Yugoslavia meant learning about and carrying in our minds the battles and numberless ethnic and religious conflicts dating back half a millennium, and honoring ancestors who died in them. By then, that distant history had merged with the nearer past, so those we remember from World War II are our grandparents. Their stories we heard firsthand. After several devastating ethnic wars in the 1990s we entered a new century, this time each of us knowing in person someone who perished. As I write this in November 2007, on YouTube a new generation of Albanians and Serbs post their war-songs bracing for another conflict, claiming their separate entitlements to the land and history, rather than a different kind of future, together.

“Strangely, the cultural and religious differences that led to enmity in everyday life produced—after centuries of turbulently living together—most incredible fusions in music. It is almost as if what we weren’t able to achieve through words and deeds—to fuse, and mix, and become something better and richer together—our music so famously accomplished instead.

…hold me, neighbor, in this storm… is inspired by folk and religious music from the region, whose insistent rhythms and harmonies create a sense of inevitability, a ritual trance with an obsessive, dark energy. Peaceful passages of the work grew out of the delicately curved, elusive, often microtonal melodies of prayers, as well as escapist tavern songs from the region, as my grandmother remembers them.

“For me, …hold me, neighbor… is a way to bring together the sounds of the church bells of Serbian orthodox monasteries and the Islamic calls for prayer. It is a way to connect histories and places by unifying one of the most civilized sounds of Western classical music—that of the string quartet—with ethnic Balkan instruments, the gusle [a bowed string instrument] and tapan [large double-headed drum]. It is a way to piece together our identities fractured by centuries of intolerance, and to reach out and celebrate the land so rich in its diversity, the land that would be ashen, empty, sallow, if any one of us, all so different, weren’t there.”

Aleksandra Vrebalov's ...hold me, neighbor, in this storm... was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by Carnegie Hall and by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at Maryland with funds from The Leading College and University Presenters Program of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Additional support was provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Kronos’ recording is available on Floodplain, released on Nonesuch Records.




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