Music Review: Kronos Quartet at Emory’s Schwartz Center

Kronos Quartet’s Music for Change proved an intriguing musical journey at Emory concert, Sept. 14, 2019

by Mark Gresham
September 17, 2019

Featured image: Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

Kronos Quartet returned to Atlanta this past Saturday evening for a concert at the Schwartz Center’ for Performing Arts with Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat. The program, entitled Music for Change: The Banned Countries, offered up music from Muslim-majority countries in responsive to the 2017 U.S. Executive Orders targeting citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, restricting travel access to the United States. Kronos’ introduction to the program stated that music, as “a cohesive force that doesn’t heed or recognize borders, provides an irrefutable response to those seeking to divide and demonize people.”

To make its social and political statement, the intermission-less concert, which lasted a little over an hour and a half, drew from music of composers, popular culture, and folk-traditions of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Nubia (a region, not a state, located along the Nile river between Aswan in southern Egypt and Khartoum in central Sudan), Palestine, Somalia, Syria ,and Yemen.

Those premises acknowledged, the more immediate question for the concertgoer is: What can the listener make of the music and performance on their own terms? The fact is that the music speaks for itself compellingly. The variety of repertoire was notable even as it exhibited a perceptible, but hard to describe commonality, even as the cultures that are far more ancient than the Islamization of those lands and people exhibit their own diversity of cultural identity. Especially so when the music is given the closer scrutiny it deserves — something hard to fulfill within the confines of a single concert.

Kronos’ performance was exemplary. They remain the quintessential post-classical string quartet. They performed the larger part of the program before being joined by soprano Mahsa Vahdat for the Iranian music segment at its end. An astonishing number of the pieces required one or more of the Kronos members to play percussion. The progress of performance was contiguous, with the group moving directly from one selection to the next without stopping for applause – with a few instances where the audience felt compelled to clap anyway. Their formal place to stand and acknowledge an ovation came just before the introduction of Vahdat.

Vahdat has a lovely, liquid and expressive voice. It’s a shame that she is no longer permitted to perform publicly in her homeland, thanks to the laws of post-revolutionary Iran. That is the Iranian public’s unfortunate loss. hers is a voice that one could easily listen to for much longer than her performance on Saturday allowed. 

Mark Gresham is the founder and principal music journalist of EarRelevant. He primarily writes about classical and post-classical music, and occasionally about other arts. His career as a journalist, spans 30 years. He co-founded the monthly publication Chorus! in 1989 and edited it through 1995. A selection of his interviews from the magazine was published in 1997 as a book, Choral Conversations. In addition to EarRelevant he is currently the Atlanta correspondent for American Record Guide, and also writes occasionally for OPERA (UK). He was a contributing writer for ArtsATL from 2011 until the middle of February 2019. He has also written for NewMusicBoxWhere Atlanta/Georgia Traveler, and Creative Loafing, among others. In 2003, Gresham received an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism.

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