Kronos at 40, at the Barbican

For Mr. A’s birthday I got him tickets to see the Kronos Quartet at the Barbican Centre. Despite having lived in London for quite some time, I hadn’t ever been, and I really loved it. While the Barbican might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I absolutely love the brutalist architecture. The combination of the concrete, greenery, the water fixtures (and the weather  on tuesday wasn’t half bad either) makes it feel like you are in an alternate version of the future that people once dreamt of (like in the 1985 film Brazil).

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The inside of the Barbican bizarrely reminds me of a Japanese department store, but I can’t really put my finger on why. The architecture within isn’t as inspiring, but high ceilings and a good bar is all I need, really.

BarbicanBarbicanBarbicanBarbicanBarbicanBarbicanI was also ridiculously excited to go see the Kronos Quartet, particularly as this concert was a 40th anniversary celebration. It’s astonishing to see how much they’ve done over the years – and that evening’s performance was a collaboration between them, as well as the UK premiere of Philip Glass’ String Quartet No.6.


Jarvis Cocker and Bryce Dessner from the National also contributed and performed their pieces for the evening, which was all very exciting. Before I get into a bit more detail about the performance, I’d just like to declare that I like all the cheesy, cinematic stuff that real music buffs would sneer at me for, but I frankly don’t care. If a piece of music can stir up a memory, or give me goosebumps I’m into it. If I need a whole lot of context to make me understand I can usually take it or leave it, and I have a similar attitude towards modern art. Such a philistine, I know.

Erica Jeal, from the Guardian wrote this article about the evening, and I think on the whole (from his reaction immediately after the show) Mr A. agreed with her on most points. I got something completely different out of the evening, but I enjoyed myself so much that I’m not sure I mind! The Riley piece which they started with was too technical for my liking, but I was completely covered in goosebumps for the Philip Glass. It just reinforced my wish that if my life ever gets made into a film (like in Jiro Dreams of Sushi) that Glass is used as part of the soundtrack. Although not executed faultlessly by the quartet, I absolutely loved it.

I found the Dessner piece enjoyable, but not particularly memorable and the Jarvis one (which included playing a musical saw) sounded like how I imagine an alien abduction might. I didn’t care for the Mariana Sadovska, which got my hopes up considerably when they opened it, describing the significance of Chernobyl and ethomusicology – to me, it sounded like a call to prayer, mixed with the Moulin Rouge-version of Roxanne overlaid with the heavy breathing and babbling of a lunatic (sorry). I just wasn’t that into it, I guess.

As an encore, the Kronos Quartet played a 1920s tune called Last Kind Words, which was lovely, and my favourite – Death is the Road to Awe, from the film The Fountain. Mr. A shared the same enthusiasm for the last piece as Jeal did, but I, like an idiot was grinning and nodding along – I was delighted.

All in all I had an amazing time, and will definitely be heading to the Barbican for more as there’s so much going on! I only wish the Kronos Quartet could have indulged me and played the soundtrack from Requiem for a Dream, which might be one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. For now, I’ll just have to make do with this:

  • James Haslam

    Wow, Erin, that looks great! I hope you had an amazing time.