With more than 40 years of experience and more than 50 albums, the Kronos Quartet has a surplus of material for its concerts.
Next weekend's program in Hamilton features works that were all commissioned or arranged specifically for Kronos, which has gained critical acclaim and Grammy Awards for its exploratory and global outlook on what a string quartet can play.
The concert will range from a 1930s blues song, a Scandinavian traditional, a Malian new-music piece and a Serbian composition inspired by Roma music, to name just a few.
"Our approach is always to make the most exciting musical experience that we can put together with what we have in our toolbox at any point," violinist David Harrington said in a phone interview on Friday. Rounding out the current lineup are John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola) and Sunny Yang (cello).
"We're focusing on music that we for sure have never played in Montana, and we're focusing on relationships with composers that are really important to us," Harrington said.
Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov has written 14 pieces for Kronos. Bryce Dessner, perhaps more widely known as the guitarist for the National, has composed five works; new-music pioneer Terry Riley has written 25. Canadian Nicole Lizée, who employs turntables and electronics, is at work on her fifth piece. The quartet is planning an entire album of material by New Yorker Michael Gordon, a leader in the wide-ranging Bang on a Can music collective.
The Valentine's Day concert will boast one of the first U.S. performances of a new work Malian composer Fodé Lassana Diabaté wrote for Kronos as part of an upcoming album-length collaboration.
Diabaté, a virtuoso on a wooden xylophone called the balafon, has written a five-section suite for the quartet that spotlights one member as a soloist in each section before bringing them all together for the ultimate section.
"The fifth movement is a total group piece. There's nothing else like it in the string quartet repertoire. And so we're delighted to be bringing some of that piece to Montana," he said.
Kronos collaborator Jacob Garchik created "a note-for-note arrangement" of Diabaté's composition that Harrington likened to a Bach organ piece re-orchestrated for a modern ensemble.
"When I think of Lassana's ability and flexibility, the first musician that comes to mind is Bach," he said.
Diabaté is one the composers Kronos selected for its ambitious "50 for the Future" project.
"We're creating a repertoire of music for the next generation of quartet players. We're trying to give young players the chance to explore the world of music the way Kronos does," he said.
They commissioned new works and will make them available at no cost, including the recorded performances, sheet music, composer interviews and more, starting in mid-April.
"Groups from all over the world will be able to add this music to their repertoire and have access to the most important information about this music," he said.
He said it's difficult or near-impossible to gain access to resources like these, as public and university libraries and publishing companies haven't kept up with new composers.
"When I was 12 years old I could go down to the Seattle Public Library and and check out the music that interested in me that I knew about at that point. The libraries had it at that point," he said. He hopes they're used by groups young and old, professional and amateur, and not specifically string quartets either, broaching the idea of recorder quartets or saxophone quartets.
Another new work on the Hamilton program is "Dadra in Raga Bhairvai," by Hindu classical violinist N. Rajam, in an arrangement by Reena Esmail.
"We just gave the premiere last night, and there's nothing that we've done in the last 42 years that has expanded the sonic palette of Kronos as much as 'Dadra in Raga Bhairvai,' I can tell you that," Harrington said.
He said every once in awhile, he hears something that "totally changes the way I think about my instrument and the instruments of Kronos," and "Dadra" is one of them.
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While the composition is only nine or 10 minutes long, the quartet has "spent more time working on the sonics of that piece than anything that we've ever done," he said.
While Kronos has used sounds outside the classical realm for years, Nicole Lizée's "Death to Kosmische" has unusual instruments even by the quartet's standards.
Lizée's piece pays homage to kosmische musik, the experimental, electronics-laden German music of the 1960s and '70s. In the course of the performance, members of Kronos set down their strings for all manner of electronic gadgets.
There's an OmniChord. "It's this little handheld keyboard instrument that kind of sounds like a cheesy organ," Harrington said.
And there's a Stylophone, a mini keyboard operated with a stylus, plus minimal drum beats from a vintage record player.
"When is the last time that a string quartet brought kosmische music to Montana. Or anywhere?" he said.
"That's the world we all share now, there's all these possibilities that don't come up very often. You can explore them and make new root systems for the future," he said.
There will be some familiar music for Hamilton listeners, too.
The tense and dramatic "Lux Aeterna," from Clint Mansell's score to the Darren Aronofsky film, has been used in numerous trailers and heard around the world.
They'll also perform a relatively recent arrangement of a hit by the Who. It's a song that might have been many rock fans' first experience with an extended violin solo.
"When we did our Terry Riley festival last June, we decided to play Pete Townshend's 'Baba O'Riley' and it's become one of our favorite pieces," he said.
Vladimir Martynov's "The Beatitudes" was featured in "La Grande Bellezza" (The Great Beauty), which won the Academy Award for best foreign language motion picture in 2013.
Harrington first heard the Russian composer's serene piece when he was assembling a program for a concert marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The first third favored music from the Middle East; the second targeted the event itself; and the last was to contemplate what music had to offer in the wake of terror.
He was searching for "the most beautiful music" he could find when a Moscow choir director gave him a CD of Martynov's music and he wrote a letter to the composer.
"Within a week or so he sent this unbelievable version 'The Beatitudes,' and we're bringing that to Montana," he said.
Harrington in particular is excited about the Treasure State tour, which also has stops in Billings and Big Sky.
"We're delighted to be coming to Montana, and my family has roots in Montana so in a certain way I feel like I'm coming home," he said.
His father attended college in Butte after growing up on a homestead in Ridge, tucked in the far southeastern corner of the state.
"I was able to visit the grave of my grandfather, whom I never met," Harrington said. "It was a very deep experience."