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Release: May 17, 2001

Kronos/Upshaw premiere in Hancher launched international tour and recording plans

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Kronos Quartet and American opera/art song diva Dawn Upshaw premiered their world folk-music collaboration, "Tonight is the Night," on May 3, 2000, as the final event in the Millennium Festival presented by the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium.

A concert featuring eight world premieres, "Tonight is the Night" was titled after the Indian film music that opened the program, and featured original compositions based on folk sources by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov and Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz. Hancher commissioned the Ortiz composition, "Baalkah" (World), for the Millennium Festival.

The concert also included a globe-spanning series of traditional songs arranged especially for Kronos and Upshaw. The songs originated in Portugal, Spain, Egypt, India and even the Stephen Foster song "Ah, May the Red Rose Live Always."

Because the collaboration combined Kronos with a very busy vocal artist, Hancher was one of only six select locations in the United States and Europe privileged to present the performance. The concert production traveled from the Iowa City premiere to Berkeley and Irvine, Calif.; New York City; London, England; and Prague in the Czech Republic.

This spring, Kronos and Upshaw are reuniting in the recording studio to prepare some of the works from the "Tonight is the Night" concert for future release on the Nonesuch label.

Joshua Kosman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that the concert at the University of California-Berkeley was "mesmerizing and full of surprises" and Upshaw was "full-voiced and musically attentive."

"Kronos continues to expand the boundaries not only of its repertoire but of its technical mastery as well," Kosman wrote. ". . . the level of musicianship on display was stellar."

Veteran critic Mark Swed wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Fearlessly they trek, seeming to be guided by nothing but the spirit of adventure. . . But what makes their tour so immensely enjoyable is that they always travel as Kronos and Upshaw, as themselves, taking in the world through their own likable personalities, ever the wide-eyed Americans.

"It is perhaps the musical equivalent of those amusing travelogues by Michael Palin, where we better understand the world by seeing it reflected in someone else."

The recipient of Hancher’s commission, Gabriela Ortiz, was born in Mexico City and studied in Mexico, the United States and England. Her work combines the European art-music tradition with Mexican folk music and jazz, spiced with an interest in pre-Colombian culture. The Hancher commission was supported by Procter & Gamble and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Kosman described her "Baalkah" as "a brilliant and densely wrought five-movement setting of various Mayan religious writings," but Swed felt that "scholarship and archeology got in the way," commenting, "Ortiz tried to re-create a lost culture through very modern means, exploiting many of the formulaic sound effects that Kronos excels in and asking the group to play small cymbals as well."

Since its inception in 1973, Kronos has emerged as a leading voice for new work, without boundaries. More than 400 works have been written or arranged for Kronos, including numerous works commissioned by Hancher Auditorium for Iowa premieres. The quartet’s "Pieces of Africa" CD, which became the largest selling string quartet recording in history, originated in an African-theme concert in Hancher.

Upcoming Hancher/Kronos projects include a South American program next season, and a NASA-commissioned world premiere during Hancher’s 30th-annivesary season, 2002-2003, using UI space scientist Donald Gurnett’s recordings of space sounds as the inspiration for a composition by minimalist pioneer Terry Riley.

Upshaw has become one of the world’s most celebrated singers -- spanning opera, art-song recitals, popular songs, musical theater, recordings and television broadcasts -- noted for her commitment to performances of new music. She starred on the recording of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, which became the largest-selling recording of contemporary classical music ever, with sales of more than a million copies.

Golijov was born in Argentina, and also lived in Jerusalem before moving to the United States in the mid-1980s. A New York Times review described the two-time Friedheim Award winner as "a musical alchemist who conjures up new worlds." He visited the UI last fall for the Kronos performance, with Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, of his award-winning "Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind."

Hancher’s season-spanning Millennium Festival featured more than 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance. In addition to the "Baalkah" new works were created by artists including theater visionary Robert Lepage; choreographers Twyla Tharp, Ushio Amagatsu, Bill T. Jones, UI alumnus Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Paul Taylor, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; and composers Richard Danielpour, Paul Schoenfield, Cedar Rapids native Michael Daugherty and UI alumnus David Lang with his Bang on a Can associates.

Performances involved American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp Dance, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the Ethos Percussion Group, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Sankai Juku, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Ahn Trio and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.

For UI arts information, visit <www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa> on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.