Young musicians take a page from Kronos Quartet
Twelve high school musicians from Orange County School of the Arts, Beckman High School and the Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra attended a master class recently hosted by the world-renowned string ensemble Kronos Quartet at Chapman University’s College of Performing Arts.
The group, which recently performed at Chapman’s Musco Center for the Arts, is touring worldwide, hosting workshops for young musicians along the way as part of its Fifty for the Future program, which will make 50 newly commissioned compositions available to aspiring musicians over the course of five years.
Kronos Quartet, which performs contemporary music exclusively, recognizes that while there is easy access to classical repertoire by composers like Haydn, there aren’t not nearly enough contemporary works for up-and-coming string artists to get their hands on.
“I think kids get so used to playing dead white guys’ music, which is great, don’t get me wrong, but there are a hundred thousand other styles that are important to acknowledge,” said Kronos cellist Sunny Yang. “I wish I was exposed to this as a young musician because it frees you up and challenges you to think outside the box.”
During the workshop, the three high school quartets, along with a group from Chapman University, worked on pieces they selected from the Fifty for the Future library of commissioned works.
“I was a bit shocked at contemporary music, but I think after this experience I’m more open-minded,” said OCSA junior Jennifer (Jueun) Yi, who worked with Kronos violinist and founder David Harrington. “(Harrington) told us to look beyond the notes, and a lot of musicians say that, but today it meant more.”
The musicians gave the students suggestions about style and technique as they played the new scores. Harrington even asked those he worked with to remove their shoes as a way to teach posture and playing stance.
“I think my function here today is to put this music in a larger context and emphasize that this is a process,” he said.
“These are not just notes. These are particles of emotion,” Harrington told the quartet he worked with. “They are responses to the world that we live in, and its up to you to make whatever you play come alive.”
The students admitted that working with such notable musicians, as well as their own lack of familiarity with the pieces, made them nervous, but Harrington did his best to make them feel comfortable.
Making mistakes is OK, he said. And he told them that even he works on certain technical elements every single day. He also complimented them on the way they played a portion of the score, saying that he planned to borrow the interpretation when Kronos Quartet performs the piece in the future.
“It was neat to see how engaged he was with us,” said OCSA junior Matthew Morales. “When he said that he’s been working on some things for 50 years and he still hasn’t gotten it, it made me realize that even though he’s an experienced musician he’s still growing. And I might not ever perfect (my technique), but it gives me a reason to keep pushing forward.”
Many of the students said that until now, they had never played the type of contemporary music that Kronos Quartet is known for performing.
“I definitely have a better sense of the style of the music now,” said Beckman High School senior Elaine Huang. “After hearing (Yang) explain and watching her play, I think I won’t be as afraid to experiment in my playing because there’s not just one answer.”
Sophomore Julia Wang of the OCYSO agreed. “I think that’s sort of the definition of art,” she said. “There’s not a right answer. They leave it blank so you can interpret it yourself.”