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March 11, 2015

KRONOS PRESENTS: Terry Riley Festival

In honor of Terry Riley’s 80th birthday, the San Francisco-based, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet / Kronos Performing Arts Association announces KRONOS PRESENTS: Terry Riley Festival, a three-day festival, June 26 – 28 at San Francisco’s SFJAZZ Center, featuring performances of several of the composer’s most significant and rarely-performed works, with special guest performers Zakir Hussain, Wu Man, The Living Earth Show, Gyan Riley and Terry Riley himself.

Terry Riley      Kronos Quartet

The festival features four world premieres, including a series of five new one-minute commissioned pieces written in celebration of Riley’s birthday. At the festival’s conclusion, Riley’s monumental Salome Dances for Peace will be performed in its entirety by Kronos for the first time in 20 years. KRONOS PRESENTS: Terry Riley Festival is the inaugural program of KRONOS PRESENTS, a new initiative that will showcase the organization’s expansive curatorial vision, far-ranging musical collaborators and broad musical aesthetics, through an annual festival and other events.

Kronos Quartet and Terry Riley share a musical partnership that dates back to the late 1970s at Mills College where Riley taught composition, improvisation and Hindustani classical music, and where the quartet was ensemble-in-residence. Since then, Kronos has commissioned 27 works by Riley, more than from any other single composer, resulting in a long and fruitful artistic relationship.

“This festival is an opportunity to experience the breadth of work created by a true American icon and California original, Terry Riley” says Kronos’ founder and artistic director David Harrington. “In three nights we will celebrate Terry’s 80 years by gathering together many friends to explore the range of his musical interests through the lens of our 35-year artistic relationship. This festival is a rare moment to honor Terry’s spirit of generosity, his unwavering belief in peace and his artistic leadership, which is apparent in the impact his work has had on Kronos and the world of music. Happy birthday Terry!”

Friday, June 26 | 7:30pm: Happy 80th Birthday Terry!
The three-day festival opens on Friday, June 26 with Kronos joined by Zakir Hussain, Wu Man and other surprise guests. Three of Riley’s works are on the program for the evening, including the composer’s first commission for Kronos, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector (1980). One Earth, One People, One Love, which features the recorded voice of Alice Walker, was written in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, and is part of Riley’s evening-length composition Sun Rings, which was commissioned by NASA in 2002.

Riley’s third piece on Friday’s program, a Kronos commission from 2004, is The Cusp of Magic. Kronos and Wu Man, the world’s premier pipa virtuoso will perform the first of the work’s six movements.

Friday’s program continues with the world premiere of Oberek for Terry Riley by Polish composer Aleksander Kościów, written for Kronos as a musical gift for the celebration of Riley’s 80th birthday. The piece is based on a traditional Polish folk dance, the oberek, and represents, in the words of the composer, “the human need for pure joy.” Riley has had a deep interest in North Indian classical music for many years. Tabla virtuoso Hussain will round out the evening’s concert performing solo in Riley’s honor.

The festival’s opening night culminates with a post-concert celebration, attended by Riley, Kronos, guest artists and friends (separate ticket, $80). Proceeds from this event will benefit the Kronos Education and Community Program, which provides outreach and residency activities for a wide range of participants in conjunction with Kronos performances at home in the Bay Area and around the world.

Saturday, June 27 | 7:30pm: Kronos, Terry & Friends

Kronos will perform three world premieres on the second evening of the festival. The program will include the premiere of a series of five one-minute pieces, commissioned by Kronos, and written in honor of Riley by composers Jherek Bischoff, Caleb Burhans, Maggie Payne, Greg Saunier, and Aleksandra Vrebalov.

In the second premiere of the evening Kronos will be joined by special guests Travis Andrews and Andy Meyerson of The Living Earth Show, an electro-classical chamber ensemble based in San Francisco. Together they will perform a new piece inspired by one of Riley’s most famous works, A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969).

Rounding out the evening is a new work for guitar, keyboard and string quartet by Riley’s son, guitarist/composer Gyan Riley. Father and son will join Kronos in this performance.

Sunday, June 28 | 7:00pm: Salome Dances for Peace

The festival culminates Sunday evening with a performance of Riley’s two-hour Salome Dances for Peace, commissioned by Kronos in 1985. The epic quartet, triple the length of Beethoven’s longest, incorporates a mixture of styles in keeping with Riley’s eclectic interests: jazz, blues, North Indian raga, Middle Eastern scales, minimalist patterns and many other styles of music. The piece offers a retelling of the story of Salome as a sorceress in the service of world peace. Biblical legend is joined by ancient myth and stories from Native American cultures to portray Salome’s attainment of powers in order to fight the forces of evil.

For more than 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet—David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello)—has combined a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually re-imagining the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the world’s most celebrated and influential ensembles, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 50 recordings, collaborating with many of the world’s most eclectic composers and performers, and commissioning more than 850 works and arrangements for string quartet. A Grammy winner, Kronos is also the only recipient of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize. With a staff of ten, the non-profit Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA) manages all aspects of Kronos’ work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours and home-season performances, and education programs.

Terry Riley first came to prominence in 1964 when he subverted the world of tightly organized atonal composition then in fashion. With the groundbreaking In C—a work built upon steady pulse throughout; short, simple repeated melodic motives; and static harmonies—Riley achieved an elegant and non-nostalgic return to tonality. In demonstrating the hypnotic allure of complex musical patterns made of basic means, he produced the seminal work of Minimalism.

Riley’s facility for complex pattern-making is the product of his virtuosity as a keyboard improviser. He quit formal composition following In C in order to concentrate on improvisation, and in the late 1960s and early ‘70s he became known for weaving dazzlingly intricate skeins of music from improvisations on organ and synthesizer. At this time, Riley also devoted himself to studying North Indian vocal techniques under the legendary Pandit Pran Nath, and a new element entered his music: long-limbed melody. From his work in Indian music, moreover, he became interested in the subtle distinctions of tuning that would be hard to achieve with a traditional classical ensemble.

Riley began notating music again in 1979 when both he and the Kronos Quartet were on the faculty at Mills College in Oakland. By collaborating with Kronos, he discovered that his various musical passions could be integrated, not as pastiche, but as different sides of similar musical impulses that still maintained something of the oral performing traditions of India and jazz. Riley’s first quartets were inspired by his keyboard improvisations, but his knowledge of string quartets became more sophisticated through his work with Kronos, combining rigorous compositional ideas with a more performance-oriented approach.

This three-decade-long relationship has yielded 27 works for string quartet, including a concerto for string quartet, The Sands, which was the Salzburg Festival’s first-ever new music commission; Sun Rings, a multimedia piece for choir, visuals and space sounds, commissioned by NASA; and The Cusp of Magic, for string quartet and pipa. Kronos’ album Cadenza on the Night Plain, a collection of music by Riley, was selected by both Time and Newsweek as one of the 10 Best Classical Albums of the Year in 1988. The epic five-quartet cycle, Salome Dances for Peace, was selected as the #1 Classical Album of the Year by USA Today and was nominated for a Grammy in 1989.

KRONOS PRESENTS: Terry Riley Festival is made possible in part by generous support from Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund and the Board of Directors of the Kronos Performing Arts Association.


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