For more than 40 years, Kronos Quartet has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to expanding the range and context of the string quartet. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts, releasing more than 50 recordings, commissioning more than 800 new works and arrangements, and collaborating with renowned artists from around the globe.
Nonesuch releases Kronos Quartet’s acclaimed album Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass on vinyl for the first time on November 3, 2023, to coincide with Kronos Quartet: Five Decades, a year-long celebration marking the quartet’s 50th anniversary. Originally released in 1995, the album features David Harrington (violin), John Sherba, (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Joan Jeanrenaud (cello) performing Quartet No. 2 (Company) (1983), No. 3 (Mishima) (1985), No. 4 (Buczak) (1990), and No. 5 (1991), the first piece Glass wrote especially for Kronos. Recorded at Skywalker Sound in California, the album was produced by Judith Sherman, Kurt Munkacsi, and Philip Glass. The cover art features Francesco Clemente’s painting The Four Corners (1985). At the time of the album’s release, the New York Times said, “It contains some of Glass's best music since Koyaanisqatsi. His ear for sumptuous string sonorities is undeniable,” while the Washington Post called it “an ideal combination of composer and performers.” It was a top 10 hit on Billboard’s Top Classical Albums and spent 12 weeks on Billboard’s Classical chart.
In his original liner note, critic Mark Swed wrote, “Glass’s string quartets may contain his most intimate music. They are works through which a very public composer, perhaps the most important opera reformer of our age and a longstanding collaborator in large-scale music theater, holds up a mirror to himself and his way of composing. ‘In an odd way,’ Glass explains, ‘string quartets have always functioned like that for composers. I don’t really know why, but it’s almost impossible to get away from it. It’s the way composers of the past have thought and that’s no less true for me. It’s almost as if we say we’re going to write a string quartet, we take a deep breath, and we wade in to try to write the most serious, significant piece that we can.’ Glass says that as he sat down to write String Quartet No. 5, he had discovered that perhaps not taking a serious tone might be the most serious way to deal with it. ‘I was thinking that I had really gone beyond the need to write a serious string quartet and that I could write a quartet that is about musicality, which in a certain way is the most serious subject.’”
Glass’s first numbered quartet was written in 1966; however, he did not return to the string quartet medium until 1983, when he provided incidental music for a dramatization of Samuel Beckett’s prose poem Company. During those 17 years, Glass had formed an ensemble and developed his style in a series of increasingly elaborate pieces for it. String Quartet No. 3 is also adapted to dramatic music, this time from his score to the 1985 Paul Schrader film, Mishima. It was with the music of Mishima that Kronos became associated with Glass, recording the string quartet sections of the soundtrack and subsequently working extensively with the composer on all five of his numbered quartets. Kronos also gave the first concert performances of Company and Mishima. String Quartet No. 4 was composed in remembrance of the artist Brian Buczak, who died of AIDS in 1988.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1937, Philip Glass is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School. By 1974, he had created a large collection of music for The Philip Glass Ensemble. The period culminated in the landmark opera Einstein on the Beach. Since Einstein, Glass’s repertoire has grown to include music for opera, dance, theatre, orchestra, and film. His scores have received Academy Award nominations (including Kundun and The Hours, as well as Notes on a Scandal) and a Golden Globe (The Truman Show). Recent works include his memoir, Words Without Music, his first Piano Sonata, opera Circus Days and Nights, and Symphony No. 14. Glass received the Praemium Imperiale in 2012, the US National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama in 2016, and 41st Kennedy Center Honors in 2018.
Nonesuch’s relationship with Glass began in 1985, with the release of the score for Paul Schrader’s Mishima featuring Kronos Quartet. Over the years other Glass works on Nonesuch have included Einstein on the Beach (1993), Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass (1995), Music in Twelve Parts (1996), Glass Box (2008), as well as the soundtracks for Powaqqatsi (1988), Kundun (1997), Koyaanisqatsi (1998), and The Hours (2002), among others.
For 50 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet—David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Paul Wiancko (cello)—has challenged and reimagined what a string quartet can be. Founded at a time when the form was largely centered on long-established, Western European traditions, Kronos has been at the forefront of revolutionizing the string quartet into a living art form that responds to the people and issues of our time. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our era, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 70 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, and collaborating with many of the world’s most accomplished composers and performers. Through its nonprofit organization, Kronos Performing Arts Association, Kronos has commissioned more than 1,000 works and arrangements for string quartet—including the Kronos Fifty for the Future library of free, educational repertoire. Kronos has received more than 40 awards, including three Grammy Awards and the Polar Music, Avery Fisher, and Edison Klassiek Oeuvre Prizes.
Kronos is prolific and wide-ranging on recordings. The ensemble’s expansive discography on Nonesuch includes three Grammy-winning albums: Terry Riley’s Sun Rings (2019), Landfall with Laurie Anderson (2018), and Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw (2003); the 40th-anniversary boxed set Kronos Explorer Series; Nuevo (2002), a Grammy- and Latin Grammy–nominated celebration of Mexican culture; Pieces of Africa (1992), a showcase of African-born composers that simultaneously topped Billboard’s Classical and World Music charts; and Folk Songs (2017), Nonesuch’s 50th album with Kronos, which featured Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant singing traditional folk songs.