Kronos Quartet plays music by Bryce Dessner
By Matt F.
Although I earnestly attempt not to hold any predisposed opinions concerning classical music, I’m still immediately weary of so-called crossover acts, particularly rock stars trying their hand at long form composition. In the grand scheme of things the late Jon Lord, keyboardist for Deep Purple, was really the only composer/rock star who straddled both world with any authority, although Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is showing serious promise.
Then there’s Bryce Dessner, guitarist/composer for The National, a band whose appreciation for classical music isn’t audible to my ears, but then again I couldn’t hear it with The Beatles either. Here he’s teamed up with the Kronos Quartet which lends him some legitimacy, but not by any means a guarantee. The opening piece “Aheym” leads with the type of energy associated with rock acts, and when I listened to it in the open air of the store it sounded like a pretty straightforward post-Philip Glass-ian string quartet. However, when I took it home and listened to it in more intimate quarters, I found myself not only surprised by the richness of complexity I had missed in my previous listens, but that it was complex in a very classical sense. The album is imbued with strong notions of traditional harmony and rigorous counterpoint, but it sounds neither like an intellectual exercise nor someone following a compositional textbook note for note.
I almost wrote off the piece “Tenebre” entirely after about 15 seconds in because it was so derivative of Steve Reich. However, upon taking the time to read the linear notes, I was quickly informed that the piece was commissioned for a festival celebrating the influence of Steve Reich on the occasion of his 75th birthday. My opinion quickly changed and instead of thinking him to be a copycat-hack I now believe him to be a talented, compositional chameleon.
Has Bryce Dessner completely changed my opinion of rocker/composer crossovers? Hardly. Has he nudged it in the direction of thinking that there may yet be hope for more Deep Purple keyboardists in the world? Lord knows.