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Kronos Quartet, Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh

Tessa Prebble



Nearly everyone, regardless of their opinion on classical music and string quartets, has heard of the Kronos Quartet. Even if the name doesn’t ring any bells, the sound will; think Requiem for a Dream. Almost everyone has seen this film and felt like they have been punched in the stomach at its conclusion. A big part of its emotional impact springs from the score, which was composed by Clint Mansel and featured the Kronos Quartet.
The Quartet, made up of David Harrington and John Sherba on Violin, Jennifer Culp on Cello and Hank Dutt on Viola, are known for their ability to push the boundaries of what is expected from both classical music and string quartets in general. Their latest release Mugam Sayagi, which is compiled of four works by Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, is no exception. The first track, ‘Oasis’, which will be performed at their upcoming concert on March 14th at the Town Hall, is a thirteen-minute epic journey which begins with the sounds of water dripping, plucked strings and discordant notes, and moves to violins that seem to ache and fly with feeling.
The songs that follow are, like ‘Oasis’, full of tension and heightened levels of emotion. Mugam Sayagi is a journey into an unsettled, and unstable atmosphere. This atmosphere of mystery and raw emotion derives from the combined force of Ali-Zadeh’s native Azerbaijan mugam music and Western avant-garde influences, with a context of a nation in the midst of upheaval. Ali-Zadeh’s music is raw and real, and who better to express that tender emotion than the Kronos Quartet?
What listening to the Kronos Quartet made me realise is that while most musicians rely on lyrics to evoke emotion and feeling, a group that has the same effect without the lyrics and voice to fall
back on, is truly a musical success, and worthy of more than fleeting experience as the background to a film.
The Kronos Quartet has made me want to listen to classical music, which is no small feat. If you want to experience something slightly out of your comfort zone and past experience, the Kronos Quartet may just be the perfect place to start.