Darmstadt Kindergarten (2015)
String quartet (with hand gestures). Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.
Darmstadt Kindergarten was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund. It consists of a seventeen-measure “theme,” composed in two versions: instrumental and choreographic. The instrumental version is played conventionally on two violins, viola, and cello; the choreographic version calls for the players to substitute silent hand gestures—lavishly described in the score—for their instrumental sounds. (In this regard, the piece has a kinship with Gone, Dog. Gone! and The Second Decade (from 30) which similarly end in silent hand gestures.)
The instrumental “theme” is repeated five times in immediate succession. During each successive statement one additional player is permanently removed from the instrumental group and instead plays the choreographic version. The hand gestures are executed at precise moments corresponding to the rhythms from the player’s instrumental part. Darmstadt Kindergarten is thus a piece that is partly about memory; the audience is invited to “hear” the instrumental material when later voiced by choreographed action. Music can indeed be expressed even in the absence of sound.
The title alludes to the famous summer music courses held in Darmstadt, Germany. For decades composers such as Cage, Boulez, Nono, and Stockhausen met to share their latest musical sounds and ideas. The festival came to be known as a hotbed of the most gritty, modernist contemporary music, stuff aimed decidedly at mature audiences and, as a consequence, sometimes lacking the ludic sense of play that makes childlike enterprise so appealing (and perhaps in need of rehabilitation). Commissioned originally for a Kronos Quartet’s children’s concert, I wanted to compose a piece that could appeal at once to audiences of varying age, experience, and affinity for levity, gravity, whimsy, and rigor, something worthy of a “Darmstadt kindergarten.”
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Premiered in May, 2015 to an enthusiastic audience of children and adults, an authoritative video of this piece has not yet been made. The link to its very attractive score, however, appears below; kindly do not share it as Kronos’ exclusivity period continues until the middle of 2016.