Kronos Quartet
7:00pm, Mon 4 Mar 2013
As mentioned before, Kronos Quartet were most certainly the reason I bought this ticket early; but I’m rapidly (rabidly?) becoming a Zephyr Quartet fanboy, and the opportunity to see JG Thirwell (the man behind industrial stalwart Foetus, and responsible for one of my favourite Nine Inch Nails remixes) was also a pretty big drawcard… needless to say I was pretty excited heading into Thebby.
My neighbours, on the other hand, were most certainly not thrilled to be there… nor were they pleased that the average age of the audience tended towards the mid-thirties. It’s fair to say that they had a traditionalist approach to string quartets that they’d formed many decades ago; faces frozen in a perpetual scowl, any attempt to make conversation was instantly scotched with a glare. I note that their mood lightened briefly when Festival Director David Sefton walked towards us; the scowl returned when he and I chatted for a minute or so. He was a row closer to the stage than I; “take my seat after the interval,” he offered, “I’ve got to go back into town to see Sylvie.”
“Come on, man,” I retorted, “it’s pretty easy to schedule all this stuff.” He laughed, shook my hand, and took his seat; the Mayor and Mayoress of FunTown next to me huffed audibly.
The lights dropped, and Zephyr Quartet took to the stage with JG Thirwell. And, without mincing words, their performance was absolutely the kind of thing I live for: ominous notes, unsettling chords, a brooding sense of uncertain terror in every moment, it was like listening to an Edgar Allan Poe poem in musical form. With Thirwell supporting the Quartet on keys and percussion, the pace and tension of some of their pieces (in particular, their third work) was utterly invigorating.
Again, let me be quite clear: Zephyr + Thirwell was awesome, and stoked the Zephyr fanboy flames ever-higher.
My grumpy neighbours left during the subsequent interval, never to return: this was not Their Kind Of Quartet (but they are, most certainly, my kind of quartet). A quick chat with Sefton – “that was fucking awesome” sounds like something I’d say – and I availed myself of the opportunity to steal his seat, inching closer to Kronos.
Despite my mild disappointment I experienced after their previous performance, the first piece that Kronos performed won me over: engaging and thoughtful, it was a beautiful introduction. The second piece was a quirky number, seeing the quartet adopt a number of other instruments – an electric zither, a portable record player – and I was starting to grin madly.
But then I detected some noise in the background – was that a backing track? I listened harder, and couldn’t shake the idea that they were performing atop a pre-recorded backdrop – instantly, a good chunk of the mystery and magic disappeared. I was still enjoying myself, but the second-guessing of what was “real” and what was pre-recorded lessened the thrill noticeably.
JG Thirwell’s composition Eremikophobia (a fear of sand or deserts) was a drawn out monster, with a seemingly endless denouement that felt perfectly weighted – proper hold-your-breath-waiting-for-the-last-note-to-fade stuff. Finally, Bryce Dessner joined Kronos onstage; that piece threatened to dissolve into polyrhythmic art rock-wank, but was luckily saved by the rock power of Dessner’s guitar.
As I headed back into the city, I couldn’t help but think the scheduling of that performance was all wrong: as much as I enjoyed the musical content of Kronos’ set, it was tarnished by the backing track second-guessing… and the fact that Zephyr’s set blew them off the stage. Imagine walking into the warm evening having just been unsettled by those notes – the very thought gives me goosebumps.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 4, 2013