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Kronos Quartet Stars in East Coast Premiere of MY LAI at BAM, 9/27-30

Kronos Quartet, tenor Rinde Eckert, and Vietnamese musician Vân-Áhn Võ are bringing Jonathan Berger's acclaimed monodrama My Lai to BAM's 2017 Next Wave Festival for the work's East Coast premiere. Four performances will take place in the BAM Harvey Theater, Wednesday, September 27 through Saturday, September 30 (7:30 pm).

The libretto by Harriett Scott Chessman is a character study of Army Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr., who tried to intervene during the infamous Vietnam War massacre at My Lai in 1968, in which American soldiers slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese citizens, nearly all of them women, children, and the elderly. Vân-Áhn Võ complements the timbres of Kronos with three Vietnamese instruments: dan bau (single-string box zither), dan tranh (16-string board zither), and t'rung (a visually striking helix-shaped xylophone with bamboo rods). The direction and set design are by Mark DeChiazza and Eckert, with video by DeChiazza and lighting by Brian H. Scott.

Rather than focusing on the soldiers who perpetrated the slaughter, My Lai centers on Thompson, a helicopter pilot who tried to stop the carnage, even threatening to open fire on his own troops. Initially, the Army tried to cover up the massacre and discredit Thompson, but his testimony before Congress (for which he was initially villified) helped to turn public opinion against the war.

As portrayed by Eckert, Thompson is seen in a hospital room not long before his death from cancer at 62. Thompson's present and past merge as he recalls the traumatic events of the day. Periodically, he is taunted by an unseen game show emcee who forces him to defend his actions. Says Berger, "the consequences of Thompson's naïve, idealistic attempt to stop the carnage are pieced together in an effort to seek closure and resolution."

My Lai's concert premiere took place at Stanford University, where Berger teaches composition and conducts research on cognition. Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle called the Stanford Live presentation "fierce and often harrowing" and praised its "eloquence and sensitivity...Tenor Rinde Eckert, in one of his trademark displays of unbridled vocal power, made Thompson a vivid and poignant character; the music...underscored the drama with unerring clarity.

"The combination of string quartet and traditional Vietnamese instruments - which could all too easily have registered as a multicultural cliche - instead created a potent metaphor for the clashes of the war... For the quartet, Berger's writing alternated between bursts of dense, frenzied activity and slow, hymn-like harmonies of aching sweetness. Võ, meanwhile, plied an array of plucked and hammered instruments...with exquisite precision and care. The Combined effect was hauntingly beautiful."

My Lai was commissioned by the Harris Theater in Chicago, where it made its stage debut in January 2016. John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune described it as "gripping...Considering the horrifying real-life atrocity that inspired My Lai...the one thing that most impressed me was the work's overall restraint... The half-spoken, half-sung vocal writing moved in sometimes jagged, expressionistic intervals, the character's recollections peppered with obscenities common to GI-speak, especially in the heat of battle. Chessman's memory play mixes poetry, slang, and hurt with fierce brilliance."

Prior to BAM, My Lai will be staged at the Singapore International Festival of the Arts (Aug./Sept.); afterwards, it will go on to the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, and Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa. These performances mark the 50 year anniversary of the event, which took place in March 1968.

Tickets for My Lai are available at

In June, Kronos released Folk Songs on Nonesuch Records, pairing the ensemble with four singers - Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant - in a selection of traditional folk song arrangements. The album has been warmly greeted: Zoë Madonna of the Boston Globe selected it as one of "the best classical albums this year, so far... Whether adding sinewy string accents to Amidon's takes on old American songs or acting as the sonic sea on which Giddens's mournful voice floats, there's not a bad take in the bunch."

September 15 brings the release of Ladilikan (on World Circuit), which brings the quartet together with three of Mali's finest griot musicians, Trio Da Kali, a group that includes frequent Kronos collaborator Fodé Lassana Diabaté. Inspired arrangements by Jacob Garchik weave the two ensembles into a rich sonic tapestry. Writes Charlie McCann in The Economist, "Ladilikan is unlike anything you may have heard before. There is the steel of [Hawa 'Passé Mady'] Diabaté's voice, the thrum of the bass n'goni, an oval-shaped lute played by Mamadou Kouyaté, and the cool pitter-patter of percussion from the balaphon, a wooden xylophone which, in the expert hands of Fodé Lassana Diabaté, lets forth a bubbling brook of sound. And of course there are the quartet's strings, which know exactly when to withdraw and when to surge forward. This delightful album makes a repertoire of music which is centuries old sound vital and new. It is a promise kept."

Trio Da Kali was formed by musicologist Dr. Lucy Durán in 2014 as part of Kronos' third collaboration with the Aga Khan Music Initiative, which brings the quartet together with leading musicians from around the world to compose, arrange, and perform new music rooted in regional traditions.

For more than 40 years, San Francisco's Kronos Quartet - David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) - has combined a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the world's most celebrated and influential ensembles, performing thousands of concerts, releasing more than 60 recordings, collaborating with many of the world's most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning over 900 works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos has received over 40 awards, including the Polar Music and Avery Fisher Prizes, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians.

Integral to Kronos' work is a series of long-running collaborations with many of the world's foremost composers, including Americans Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich; Azerbaijan's Franghiz Ali-Zadeh; Russia's Vladimir Martynov; Poland's Henryk Górecki; and Serbian-American Aleksandra Vrebalov. Additional collaborators have included Wu Man, Laurie Anderson, Tanya Tagaq, Mahsa Vahdat, Trevor Paglen, Van Dyke Parks, múm, Dawn Upshaw, Noam Chomsky, Tom Waits, Asha Bhosle, Taraf de Haïdouks, and Howard Zinn.

On tour for five months per year, Kronos appears in the world's most prestigious concert halls, clubs, and festivals. Kronos is equally prolific and wide-ranging on recordings, including the Grammy- and Latin Grammy-nominated Nuevo (2002) and the 2004 Grammy-winner Alban Berg's Lyric Suite. Kronos' most recent releases include the One Earth, One People, One Love: Kronos Plays Terry Riley box set; Folk Songs, which features Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant singing traditional songs; and Ladilikan, a collaborative album with Trio Da Kali, a "super-group" of Malian griot musicians assembled by Aga Khan Music Initiative.

The nonprofit Kronos Performing Arts Association manages all aspects of Kronos' work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours and home season performances, education programs, and a self-produced Kronos Festival. In 2015, Kronos launched Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, an education and legacy project that is commissioning-and distributing for free-the first learning library of contemporary repertoire for string quartet.

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