About Kronos’ Fifty for the Future

Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA), the San Francisco-based non-profit organization of the Kronos Quartet, has launched Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, a string quartet commissioning, performance, education, and legacy project of unprecedented scope and potential impact. Drawing on more than forty years of collaboration with prominent and emerging composers from around the world, Kronos is commissioning a library of fifty works designed to guide young amateur and early-career professional string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire. Each of the fifty works will be an artistically complete composition that will be premiered by Kronos with the entire Fifty for the Future body of work becoming a core component of its own repertoire over five performance seasons (2015/2016 through 2019/2020). Digital versions of the scores and parts, recordings, and other pedagogical materials for each work can be accessed here on our website free of charge.

Joining KPAA as Lead Partner for Kronos’ Fifty for the Future project is Carnegie Hall. In conjunction with the launch of its 125th Anniversary celebration in 2015/2016, Carnegie Hall will present Kronos concerts, produce community performances, and host educational workshops featuring this new repertoire during the five years of the project. An adventurous group of presenters, academic institutions, and other arts organizations will participate as Legacy Partners and Commissioning Partners, engaging in performances and educational programs that feature the musical works and related resources that are developed over the course of the project. Through jointly designed master classes, workshops, and residencies, Kronos will work with each of these core partners to extend the reach of their own educational programs within their communities. Kronos' Fifty for the Future program also receives generous support from foundations, corporations, and individual donors.

The Need: “Why Fifty New Compositions?”

There is no shortage of string quartet repertoire or educational resources available to today’s young musicians who wish to specialize in the canon of works from Haydn through the mid-20th century. But there is no coordinated body of work devoted to the most contemporary approaches to the string quartet, designed expressly for the training of students and emerging professionals. Kronos’ Fifty for the Future project is a response to this need, providing young performers with the ability to immerse themselves in contemporary approaches to string quartet literature and performance and also to develop as players by working their way through the levels of complexity and difficulty within the repertoire. This new set of resources will present string quartet music as a living art form, providing emerging musicians with both an indispensable library of learning materials as well as a blueprint for their own future collaborations with composers.

The Composers & Compositions

For more than four decades the Kronos Quartet has collaborated with composers representing the highest level of artistic excellence along with tremendous stylistic and cultural diversity. Kronos' Fifty for the Future works will be commissioned from a similarly eclectic group of composers - 25 women and 25 men – representing the truly globe- spanning genres of string quartet literature in the early 21st century. The project compositions are intended to be approachable by musicians of a wide range of accomplishment, from youth ensembles to beginning professionals. Kronos/KPAA has commissioned more than 850 works since it was formed in 1973, but Fifty for the Future represents the largest single artistic and educational project that it has undertaken.

Access to the Project

Within months after Kronos' Fifty for the Future compositions are created, they will be made available here on our website free of charge. Each of the new pieces will be presented as a stand-alone module and include downloadable sheet music (scores and parts) complemented by a variety of materials appropriate to the work, such as recordings of Kronos performing each piece, written and/or video interviews with the composers, program notes and videos illustrating specific techniques, background material on sources and inspiration for the works, and more. After the body of work is complete, difficulty rankings will be assigned to each work.

From David Harrington, Artistic Director

What would happen if we could, through our years of working with hundreds of composers from many places, make a body of incredibly interesting, fun music that could serve the next generation as a launching pad to a world of discovery?

— David Harrington

I was lucky. The very first string quartet piece I ever heard was Beethoven's Op. 127, his twelfth string quartet. Even now, I can hear those opening E flat major chords inside of me. The resonance is amazing. The thick, rich, human sound, where each tone seems to amplify the others, where each instrument's color seems perfectly balanced with all the others—this was my introduction to a magical, interior world of expression. And I kept playing those opening chords over and over again on the LP. The Budapest Quartet in 1961 made the kind of sound I wanted to make, I had to make. I went to the Seattle Public Library and checked out the score and parts to Op. 127. I called some friends from the Seattle Youth Symphony and very soon, with three others, I was in a small practice room at the University of Washington giving the opening cue. For an instant we made that sound! I had a tingle up my back that I can remember even now and that has propelled me all of these years. I still want to make that sound.

That's how it works, in my opinion. You hear something that changes the way you think, then you try to make that sound for yourself and you have begun to add to your collection of essential homemade musical experiences. With some practice you get a little closer to replicating that original point of entry. You discover a process, a social fabric that leads to the sound you have now internalized, and there is no turning back. Because nothing else feels as right.

So in my case, my point of entry into the world of the string quartet was in the experienced, exceptional hands of one of the greatest artists in musical history. It was not watered down to make me like it. This was the real thing. Beethoven forged something beautiful from the life he had to deal with. People know when they are being told the truth. Kids know when adults are giving them the very best information. As a twelve year old I recognized something enormously wonderful in those opening chords. And when I was able to be involved in making it myself I was hooked.

The inspiration for wanting the greatest, most creative and imaginative composers to make string quartet pieces for young people that they can use as points of entry to their future is precisely my own experience, having the guidance for all of these years of those unforgettable E flat major chords. What would happen if the best possible composers were able to marshal their years of experience, their very best thoughts and consciously create a body of musical information that would provide young players with the emotional and technical tools to improve their skills? What would happen if we could, through our years of working with hundreds of composers from many places, make a body of incredibly interesting, fun music that could serve the next generation as a launching pad to a world of discovery?

And so I have begun to have a personal discussion with composers about this need that I see for there to be a thought out primer, created by our very best collaborators. This primer is in part inspired by Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos, which he wrote for his son as an entry point to piano studies. Each piece explores necessary issues needed for the future. Each piece is a real piece, a real investment in making a future in music possible. At this point we have access to the worldwide community of exceptionally creative people capable of making a multifaceted primer for the youngest enthusiasts among us. I have spoken with several composers so far. In each case Kronos has worked for years with these composers. In each case the composers are enthusiastic about this idea, about contributing to something that will lead young players toward the music of the future. What the composers I’ve spoken to all have in common is that they have all agreed to make one spoke in this wheel. With careful work, I am confident we will end up with magical entry points for players to enter the world of string quartet ensemble music for the 21st century.

David Harrington
Founder and Artistic Director, Kronos Quartet