Composer Terry Riley and Kronos Quartet: A Quarter Century of Collaboration

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, June 8, 2005

(Music: “In C”)

Terry Riley earned a place in music history in 1964, when he was only 29. He single-handedly launched the minimalist movement with a piece called “In C,” which was hugely influential on the generation that followed.  But during the ‘70s, Riley sort of retired from formal composition. He created music, but he didn’t write anything down. And this continued until 1979, when Riley met David Harrington, leader of a hot young group called the Kronos Quartet. Harrington started bugging Riley to write something for the group. Riley did not immediately agree.

“I was listening to him, but I didn’t do anything about it. Then one day he came to me and showed me a program, and he had me scheduled on one of their series.  So I thought, maybe i better get busy and write something.”

One of Riley’s early pieces for the group was “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector.”

(Music: “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector”)

Composing for Kronos brought Riley back to committing his ideas to the printed page, which was an adjustment after many years of spontaneous improvisation.

“But when you’re writing, you're looking at the page and you're thinking it could go this way, or it could go that way, and which way do I like best?  And there's all these decisions to make.  So that was the big change in my processes, of slowing it down to the written page.  And it was actually kind of fun, because I came up with a lot of things that I would never have done in my improvisations.”

Riley not only hands Kronos a score. He attends their rehearsals, which become a collaboration between composer and performer.

“I don’t write the kind of scores where every diacritical mark is there.  It's pretty minimally done.  So it's really important, I think, to be there, and to sing for them the phrases, to talke to them about the kind of feeling I think the piece should have.  And then from there, once they get my ideas, they continue to build on it.  And they're tremendously imaginative what they do with the scores.  They'll come up with really beautiful nuances that really couldn't be written into a score, actually.  That's one of the reasons I like to work that way."

David Harrington of Kronos has now been working with Riley for 26 years. Harrington feels that word that describes Riley’s music is “generosity.”

"There are so many ideas that are explored, and the ease of exploration, and the wanting to share discoveries is so much a part of Terry's music.  The other composer that had so much generosity that comes to my mind is Schubert."

The Kronos Quartet performs music by Terry Riley, including a new piece called “The Cusp of Magic,” on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Amaral Family Festival Center in Grass Valley.

(music, out)