Kronos and Polish composers in Krakow

Kronos Quartet

The latest highlight on Poland's music scene took place in the southern city of Krakow. It was a concert in the city's Philharmonic Hall by the famous Kronos Quartet from the United States.

The concert was a part of the Polish Music Festival, a week-long marathon of events presenting a broad panorama of music by Polish composers, from medieval liturgical pieces to works by such world-renowned composers as Lutoslawski, Penderecki and Gorecki and representatives of the youngest generation of composers. Given its high stature, the Kronos is an attraction of any music festival. Its appearance in Krakow however was nothing short of sensation as the ensemble presented an all-Polish programme, four string quartets by four composers: Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Gorecki and Mykietyn. The quartet's association with Gorecki goes back to the early 1980s. All of the composer's three string quarters were commissioned by the Kronos. The third, subtitled 'Songs Are Sung', was premiered in Poland a year ago. It was also included in the concert's programme in Kraków. David Harrington is Kronos's first violinist.

Harrington: 'Henryk Mikolaj Górecki is not a man who would define his music or control the way a listener would experience it but I can say as a listener that there's no piece in the entire string quartet repertoire, and I would count Beethoven, Schubert, Bartok and Berg here, like the Third String Quartet. It takes me to the centre of loss and even death and I believe it also defines life as well.'

The Krakow Philharmonic Hall was fully packed for the concert of the Kronos Quartet. It was very much an international audience, which is not that surprising in view of the city's sizeable foreign community. Michael Newmark from the United States, a lecturer in history at the Jagiellonian University, found the event 'utterly delightful'

Newmark:'It's good that American musicians would come from America to Poland and play Polish music. It's an example of reaching out to the Polish people and Polish culture. This is a good example of teaching the Americans to appreaciate Polish culture. If the Kronos Quartet would then go back to the United States and play the same music, which was fantastic, utterly delightful, it can increase appreciation of Polish music abroad'.

For the Kronos Quartet, to play a Gorecki piece is nothing extraordinary. But, as the British musicologist Adrian Thomas says, for them to perform works by four different Polish composers in a single concert is absolutely extraordinary.

Thomas: 'I would say this is unusual because although they gave the premiere of Gorecki's Third String Quartet a year ago and they're playing it here, they're not particularly well known for playing Lutoslawski and Penderecki. What really encourages me is the fact that the festival has persuaded them not only to do those pieces but also to do a specially commissioned piece by Pawel Mykietyn. Now in his mid thirties, he is a very exciting composer, one who seems to be exploring and doing something quite distinctive. This is a wonderful development, because Kronos is very faithful to their commissions and if this commission goes really well this might be the beginning of a new direction for Mykietyn'.

The Kronos are also planning to perform a piece by the Polish woman composer Hanna Kulenty. And they've just recorded Gorecki's Third String Quartet on CD, to be released next spring.