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Terry Riley's 40th Anniversary Present to Kronos Quartet

On March 28, the intrepidly imaginative Kronos Quartet celebrates its 40th anniversary, performing commissioned works by favorite composers and collaborators in Stern Auditorium. The program includes a world premiere and Carnegie Hall commission by Terry Riley, a New York premiere by Philip Glass, and a new work entitled Aheym (Homeward) by Bryce Dessner, guitarist of acclaimed Brooklyn-based band The National.

Read about Terry Riley's new piece, The Serquent Risadome, below.

Terry Riley's The Serquent Risadome In His Own Words

It is from a short futuristic tale I wrote some years back called The Autodaydreamographical Anteriopod using mostly made-up words. The tale was subsequently used in a piece that I performed with the Bang on a Can All-Stars entitled Science Fiction. The Serquent Risadome seemed like a good fit with the music of the new quartet.

The opening sentence is, “Not yet obvicacious or boliferant, it subsequated, or rather anteriorted down the mawg veering toward the location formerly known as Cherenefora, in a seemingly plispephine yet serquent risadome.”

Terry Riley Tom Service QuoteAbout the Composer

Terry Riley (b. 1935) 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 the so-called “minimal” school.

Riley’s facility for complex pattern-making is the product of his virtuosity as a keyboard improviser. Following In C, he quit formal composition in order to concentrate on improvisation. 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, 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 named Classical Album of the Year by USA Today and was nominated for a Grammy in 1989.

–Sidney Chen

RELATED: Kronos Quartet and Friends–40th Anniversary Celebration, March 28, 2014

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