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Kronos Quartet to Turn Big Ears Festival 2015 into ‘Major Celebration of Our Work’

Fourth edition of Knoxville’s adventurous new music fest will feature avant barrier-breakers as “artists in residence”

David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and Sunny Yang of Kronos Quartet

David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and Sunny Yang of Kronos Quartet

Darrin Zammit/Reuters/Corbis

Kronos Quartet, the adventurous string troupe who’s been breaking barriers between popular music and the avant-classical world for more than 40 years, will be the “artists in residence” at the 2015 edition of Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival, promoter Ashley Capps tells Rolling Stone.

The group has amassed a wealth of material over the last four decades, collaborating with minimalist icons like Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich; non-European musicians like Café Tacuba and Bollywood singer Asha Bhosle; and rock bands like Dave Matthews Band and Nine Inch Nails

“That omnivore spirit is really at the core of Big Ears,” says Capps. “It’s very exciting for me to have the opportunity not only to present them but actually collaborate with them. They’re very much helping to shape much of what the festival is going to be this year. They’ve embraced the festival in a really powerful way. [Kronos founder] David Harrington is full of really exciting ideas. I joke with him that the festival is only three days, not 30 days long.”

Rolling Stone called last year’s Big Ears the most ambitious avant-garde festival to emerge in America in more than a decade, and this year should prove to be bold in its own way. With Kronos taking advantage of the fest’s multiple venues, the group will hit as many as four venues in one day. 

“We’re going to explore the way our music feels and sounds and is, in a variety of settings,” says Harrington. “Kronos had this experience recently. We were playing ‘Landfall’ with Laurie Anderson, and we heard that [Malian kora player] Toumani Diabaté had to cancel…a co-bill with Rokia Traoré. We played ‘Landfall’ and finished at just about 9 o’clock. As soon as we got off stage, we walked over to the opera house and basically joined Rokia’s concert. And we entered a whole different concert. It was magical, it was a new kind of reality, it was amazing. Shortly after that, I had a meeting with Ashley Capps, and I now want to be able to do that on a regular basis.”

Neither Capps (who also co-produces the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival) nor Kronos are spilling much about the rest of the lineup, but last year’s fest spanned 20th century minimalism, classic punk, drone, art-metal, experimental electronica, avant-jazz, ambient music and Ethio-pop. 

“We’re not 100 percent sure what this means,” says Capps, “but it is Terry Riley’s 80th birthday year. Kronos has been a champion of Terry’s music and a collaborator with Terry now for decades. So that’s not something that we’re going to let pass without acknowledgement.”

“We’re hoping to reactivate a couple of major pieces that we haven’t been able to do for a couple years. One in particular, some of the material got lost and is now being re-composed and re-looked at,” says Harrington. “We’re still working out the details of all the different events that we’ll be doing and the artists that will join us. Once that gets figured out though, I think it will be one of the major celebrations of our work that’s ever been done.”

Big Ears 2015 will be held in downtown Knoxville on March 27 through March 29, 2015.

In This Article: Kronos Quartet

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