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Kronos Quartet Create Seamless Interface With Afghani And Azerbaijani Musicians On Smithsonian Folkways’ “Rainbow,” Streaming Now On NPR.Org

United States
March 24, 2010 — The collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and the Aga Khan Music Initiative that has produced the “Music of Central Asia” series has brought listeners an astonishing variety of musical sounds. “Rainbow,” Volume 8 in the series out March 30 on Smithsonian Folkways, features the Kronos Quartet, America’s premier new-music quartet, in bold collaborations with Alim Qasimov and Homayun Sakhi, two musicians who have been at the heart of the Music Initiative’s work in Central Asia. The Aga Khan Music Initiative and the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet have inaugurated a pioneering musical collaboration that brings the quartet together with leading musicians from Azerbaijan and Afghanistan to compose, arrange, and perform new music rooted in Central Asian tradition.

The album is currently streaming on the NPR Music site, as part of their “First Listen” program. Stream it here:


The Alim Qasimov Ensemble traveled from Azerbaijan to San Francisco to work with Kronos on five of the album’s tracks. The challenge of the weeklong rehearsal period was to create a seamless interface between the note-reading Kronos players and the Qasimov Ensemble, whose performances tend to be more improvised and unpredictable. Arranger Jacob Garchik, who worked on the collaboration between the two groups of virtuosos, says, “They have very different ways of learning and teaching music.”

According to Qasimov, “To absorb this music deeply and get close to its inner sentiment, you have to put the notes aside and learn how to improvise.” That’s what Kronos did. David Harrington, the quartet’s founder and first violinist, reveals: “From Kronos’s perspective, there’s a lot of improvisation going on in the Azerbaijani songs, but hopefully the listener won’t even know when those moments are.”

Their collaboration with renowned Afghan-American rubab player Homayun Sakhi on “Rainbow,” his composition for rubab, string quartet, and percussion, had its own challenges. Sakhi composed and recorded the rubab part on his own instrument, and developed the string quartet’s sounds on a Casio synthesizer. The percussion, including Indian tabla and Central Asian frame drum (doyra) and clappers (qairaq), was added during rehearsals. Then arranger Stephen Prutsman transcribed the piece and wrote it out in Western music notation, assigning the pitches he heard on the Casio to each instrument in the quartet.

The border-transcending results achieve the aims of the ongoing collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and the Aga Khan Music Initiative, which seeks not only to revitalize and assure the onward transmission of musical traditions in regions where they are endangered, but also to cultivate creative processes which lead to artistic innovation and evolution.

Following a triumphant March 14 performance at Carnegie Hall with all three artists, the Kronos Quartet and the Alim Qasimov Ensemble will also get together to perform their portion of “Rainbow” at an upcoming show in Paris, France on May 9 at the Theatre de la Ville and at another show in Rome, Italy at the Auditorium Parco della Musica on May 11.

Watch an excerpt from the 24-minute documentary film included on the DVD:


Volumes 7 and 9 of the “Music of Central Asia” series, “In the Shrine of the Heart: Popular Classics from Bukhara and Beyond” (Vol. 7), and “In the Footsteps of Babur: Musical Encounters from the Lands of the Mughals” (Vol. 9), will also be released on March 30. Volumes 7, 8 and 9 are all streaming at:


For more information on Aga Khan Music Initiative go to: www.akdn.org/music
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