Forty years on from its publication, Allen Ginsberg's epic poem, "Howl", is regarded as a seminal modern classic. And 23 years on from its formation, the Kronos Quartet is the modern quartet par excellence, with a remorseless commitment to experimental commissions. So it's apt that the South Bank's adventurous American Independents Festival culminates with a lavish celebration of that independent American spirit, when Kronos makes its only British appearance this year.
The quartet's programme includes Lee Hyla's musical overlay of "Howl", in which a pre-recorded Allen Ginsberg reads his work, while Kronos provides the dense rhythmic accompaniment.
The maverick spirit of American music has been around for at least a century, when Charles Ives began his own idiosyncratic compositional career. Kronos also goes right back to its radical roots to perform Ives's First Quartet of 1898, subtitled "A Revival Service".
Plus, there are a couple of short pieces by Californian-born Harry Partch, another self-taught pioneer, who decided that Western music had started to go wrong around the time of the Crusades. Partch's own lifelong crusade was to break free: he lived the life of a hobo, built his own instruments, invented his own scales and preached of the corporeality of live musical performance.
As its final piece, Kronos plays - in the composer's presence - George Crumb's theatrical Black Angels. Not that the quartet just "plays" it: this is a fully-staged rendering in which the dynamic foursome forsake their strings for lengthy periods and turn their attention to gongs and water gongs against a backdrop of gauze flyscreens. In Black Angels, Crumb revels
in free-form and ulterior sounds. But there's nothing free-form about Kronos's immaculate professionalism; nor does one need an ulterior motive to enjoy this remarkable quartet at work.
EYE ON THE NEW
Ranging from sections of Bach's Art of Fugue to the contrapuntal complexities of Nancarrow's Player Piano Studies with pre-recorded multi-tracking plus multi-screen video projection of keyboards. It's all happening in Joanna MacGregor's recital.
St George's Bristol, 22 Nov, 7.30pmReuse content