Saturday, September 27, 2008

strung along

Alim Qasimov and the Kronos Quartet @ the Barbican, 26th September

David Harrington, the leader of the Kronos Quartet, has received a fair amount of coverage in Songlines magazine in recent months by virtue of his--and the quartet's--espousal of non-western music. There's no doubt that in tackling the kind of pieces which they perform tonight--from Iraq, Iran and Bosnia--the Kronoses' reputation for taking string quartet music into unchartered territory is well deserved.

But what about their collaborations with non-western musicians? For the second half of tonight's concert, the Kronoses accompany a recital of Azerbaijani wandering minstrel songs by Alim Qasimov and his ensemble. I'm sure their string playing is technically impressive but I wonder what the quartet contribute to the music which wouldn't be there anyway.

Before we hear them sing and play together, we're shown video footage of rehearsals for tonight's concert. There seems little interaction between the two groups of musicians and, from the interview clips we see, Qasimov seems unsure that there is any common ground between them. Interesting that while the Azerbaijanis sing and play from memory (that's probably how they've learned the music), from beginning to end the four string players have their noses well and truly buried in their sheet music.


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