David Harrington -- the ensemble's founder and first violinist -- was inspired to form the group after hearing George Crumb's Black Angels. By the end of the 1970s, Kronos settled into a tight collaboration between Harrington, violinist John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and found a home base in San Francisco, California. Early on, that initial musical inspiration and the audience reception at its performances led Kronos to devote itself entirely to contemporary music and to present its music in a more relaxed environment not normally found at typical chamber music recitals. Kronos' first big album was 1987's White Man Sleeps, and its 1989 recording of Reich's Different Trains won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition. In 1999, Jeanrenaud left the quartet, and Jennifer Culp stepped in as the cellist.
The Kronos Quartet has had a particularly close working relationship with Terry Riley. In 2002, NASA commissioned Riley to write Sun Rings for the group, featuring sounds and images recorded by NASA instruments throughout the solar system. Other long-standing partnerships developed between the Kronos Quartet and composers Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Henryk Górecki, among others. The Kronos' 2002 album Nuevo was nominated for both a Grammy and a Latin Grammy, and 2003's recording of Berg's Lyric Suite won another Grammy for the ensemble. The group's recordings reflect its broad interests in jazz, world music, young composers, and film. In performance, it is just as catholic in its venues and collaborations, even working with several choreographers and multimedia artists.
Culp left the ensemble in 2005 following the recording of You've Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman's Bollywood and was replaced by Jeffrey Zeigler. Personnel changes aside, the quartet continues to appeal to an eclectic mix of listeners and receives high praise for its championship of unique music. In 2011, just after the release of Uniko, a collaboration with accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen and sampling artist Samuli Kosminen, it was announced that the Kronos Quartet was the recipient of both the Avery Fisher Prize (U.S.) and the Polar Music Prize (Sweden) for its exceptional achievements. Zeigler was succeeded by Sunny Yang in 2013.
Following concerts in New York and London to celebrate Nonesuch's 40th anniversary with labelmates Oliver Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, Natalie Merchant, and Sam Amidon, the quartet regrouped with their collaborators to record the album Folk Songs. Released in 2017, the album featured several traditional compositions with contemporary arrangements. The following year saw the release of Landfall, a collaboration with Laurie Anderson inspired by the latter's experience with Hurricane Sandy. After the Nonesuch anniversary, filmmaker Sam Green was asked to make a documentary about the quartet. The result, A Thousand Thoughts (2018), was a live tour event with Kronos performing the music for the film while Green narrated. Kronos won a 2020 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album for Terry Riley's Sun Rings and later that year issued Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet and Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger on Smithsonian Folkways. The Kronos Quartet returned to that label in 2022 with a recording of Jonathan Berger's M? Lai, performed with vocalist Rinde Eckert and multi-instrumentalist Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ. ~ Patsy Morita, Rovi
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