Kronos Quartet Archive Acquired By the Library of Congress

The Kronos Archive includes music manuscripts, business papers, instruments, photographs, and more.

By: Apr. 25, 2024
Kronos Quartet Archive Acquired By the Library of Congress
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The Kronos Performing Arts Association has announced that the Library of Congress has acquired its Archive, a collection that includes manuscripts, instruments, costumes, video and audio recordings, photographs, and more. Kronos Quartet and KPAA, its non-profit organization, are based in San Francisco.

The Library also announced last week that Kronos' pioneering and influential album Pieces of Africa, released on Nonesuch in 1992, has been inducted into the National Recording Registry of audio treasures. Rounding out a trifecta of honors, the Library also announced the appointment of Kronos founder, artistic director, and violinist David Harrington to its Kluge Chair in Modern Culture.

For 50 years, Kronos has challenged and reimagined what a string quartet can be. Founded at a time when the form was largely centered on long-established, Western European traditions, Kronos has been at the forefront of revolutionizing the string quartet into a living art form that responds to the people and issues of our time.

To date, the quartet has commissioned more than 1,100 works from composers representing cultures and musical styles from around the world, released more than 70 recordings, and undertaken hundreds of concert tours. Along the way, Kronos has expanded the genre of the string quartet, and has brought quartet music to wider-ranging and more diverse audiences. It is fitting that the Library of Congress, a storied and accessible institution, should become the permanent home of the Kronos Archive.

"Kronos Quartet's impact on contemporary music is hard to overstate," said Susan H. Vita, chief of the Library's Music Division. "It is ideal for the quartet's legacy as cutting-edge multidisciplinary artists and commissioners of living composers to be preserved here at the Library of Congress, an institution which itself plays a role in the creation of new music and which has long been a preeminent international destination for the living string quartet tradition."

“We are thrilled to place our archives with the Library of Congress,” said Janet Cowperthwaite, KPAA's executive director. “It's gratifying to know that Kronos' legacy will be preserved in perpetuity alongside the manuscripts and other treasures of so many other influential musicians from the United States and around the world. And, as an organization devoted to innovation in music, we are perhaps even more excited to reflect upon all the musicians and scholars who will have access to these materials in years to come, informing their own work and carrying Kronos' inspiration and influence into the future.”

Kronos Quartet first performed in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium in November 1986 and just returned on April 18, with the acquisition of the archive announced to the concert audience. Earlier that day, Library of Congress Music Division specialists treated the quartet and members of the KPAA staff and Board of Directors to a showing of Kronos-related materials already in the Library's collection, including the original score of George Crumb's Black Angels—the work that prompted David Harrington to found Kronos in 1973—and other rarities from Béla Bartók, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Charles Mingus, and Samuel Barber, to name a few.

As the above examples demonstrate, the Archive of Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association complements many collections held by the Music Division. The Kronos collection includes papers and music manuscripts of numerous composers commissioned and/or performed by the quartet—such as John Adams, Pauline Oliveros, Hamza El-Din, Tanya Tagaq, Ornette Coleman, and Wu Man—along with correspondence and other business papers, photographs, audio and video recordings, concert posters and programs, press files, awards, and more. Together, these materials constitute an invaluable record of the ensemble's genesis, growth, and evolution as it enters its sixth decade.

Kronos brings the Library's history of quartet performances and commissions into the modern age, reaching new audiences, while exploring and forging new territory for this venerable and venerated tradition, which has had a 100-year history at the Library.

“The Music Division's connections to string quartet ensembles and string quartet performances – even right down to our famed Stradivari instruments – occupy a large slice of music history. It is fitting that the exceptional history of Kronos Quartet becomes part of this storied history,” said Vita.

On April 16, the Library inducted Kronos Quartet's pioneering and influential album Pieces of Africa, released in 1992, to the 2024 National Recording Registry, where it joins 649 other iconic recordings the Library has deemed “audio treasures worthy of preservation for all time based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation's recorded sound heritage.”

With Pieces of Africa, Kronos boldly expanded the geographical and stylistic scope of the string quartet repertoire. The album was a critical and popular success, reaching the #1 position simultaneously on Billboard's “World” and “Classical” charts—a historic first—and remaining on the former for 29 weeks.

Among the 25 recordings inducted into the Registry this year are the songs “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Gene Autry), “Ain't No Sunshine” (Bill Withers), and “El Cantante” (Héctor Lavoe) and the albums Dookie (Green Day) and Parallel Lines (Blondie).

Kronos founder David Harrington has been appointed as the Kluge Chair in Modern Culture by the Library's John W. Kluge Center. While in residence at the Kluge Center in 2024, Harrington will work with the collections of the Library of Congress to uncover stories that may be woven into future Kronos projects.

Says Harrington, "As I imagine next steps in the work of the Kronos Quartet, my appointment as Kluge Chair in Modern Culture at the Library of Congress is the most perfect opportunity for discovery and the most wide-ranging challenge I have ever received. I am so grateful to everyone involved in creating this honor for me and want Kronos' future musical adventures to be the true expression of my thanks. I cannot wait to be surrounded by the vast resources and limitless possibilities contained in the Library as I begin to define, with much expert help from the incredible librarians and staff, new adventures for the world of Kronos."

The Library of Congress is the world's largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

About Kronos Quartet

For 50 years, San Francisco's Kronos Quartet—David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Paul Wiancko (cello)—has reimagined what the string quartet experience can be. One of the most celebrated and influential groups of our era, Kronos has given thousands of concerts worldwide, released more than 70 recordings, and collaborated with many of the world's most accomplished composers and performers across many genres. Through its nonprofit organization, Kronos Performing Arts Association, (KPAA), Kronos has commissioned more than 1,100 works and arrangements for quartet. Kronos has received more than 40 awards, including the Polar Music, Avery Fisher, and Edison Klassiek Oeuvre Prizes.

Integral to Kronos' work is a series of long-running commissioning collaborations with hundreds of composers worldwide, including Terry Riley, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Tanya Tagaq, Philip Glass, inti figgis-vizueta, Fodé Lassana Diabaté, and Steve Reich.

In recordings, Kronos has collaborated with artists including Wu Man, Zakir Hussain, Asha Bhosle, Mahsa Vahdat, and Nine Inch Nails. Kronos has performed live with the likes of Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg, Rokia Traoré, David Bowie, Rhiannon Giddens, Caetano Veloso, and The National, among many others. 

The quartet tours for several months each year, appearing in celebrated venues, including Carnegie Hall (New York), Palacio de Bellas Artes (Mexico City), the Barbican (London), the Muziekgebouw (Amsterdam), Shanghai Concert Hall, Suntory Hall (Tokyo), and the Sydney Opera House.

Kronos' expansive discography on Nonesuch includes three Grammy-winning albums—Terry Riley's Sun Rings (2019), Landfall with Laurie Anderson (2018), and Alban Berg's Lyric Suite (2003)—along with dozens of other acclaimed releases. Kronos' most recent recording is Songs and Symphoniques: The Music of Moondog (2022), featuring the Ghost Train Orchestra with Rufus Wainwright, Petra Haden, Sam Amidon, Jarvis Cocker, and other guest vocalists. Kronos' work has also featured prominently in many films, including the “live documentary” A Thousand Thoughts, written and directed by Sam Green and Joe Bini, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018.

Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA) is the San Francisco-based non-profit organization of the Kronos Quartet. Under the leadership of founding executive director Janet Cowperthwaite for more than 40 years, KPAA manages all aspects of Kronos' work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours and home season performances, recordings, education programs, and an annual self-produced Kronos Festival. 

In its most ambitious commissioning effort to date, KPAA has achieved a monumental education project that will be a cornerstone of Kronos' ongoing legacy: Kronos Fifty for the Future. Through this program, Kronos has commissioned—and distributed online for free—50 new works for string quartet designed expressly for the training of students and emerging professionals, written by composers from around the world. Since the project's completion, there have been more than 37,700 downloads of works from website visitors in 108 countries and territories worldwide.








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