BY KYLE MACMILLAN | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Fusions of sight and sound are largely commonplace in today’s high-tech arts world, but they were daring and unexpected when musician, composer and performance artist Laurie Anderson began such trailblazing projects in the 1970s and ’80s.
Although now something of the doyenne of the avant-garde at age 67, Anderson has lost little of her edge, still constantly transcending boundaries with genre-bending new works and touring with abandon.
‘Landfall’ Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet When: 7:30 p.m. March 17 Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Tickets: $10-$65 Info: (312) 334-7777; harristheaterchicago.org
She will join the ever-adventurous Kronos Quartet on March 17 in the Harris Theater for Music and Dance for the Chicago premiere of one of her most successful recent works, “Landfall,” a 2013 song cycle for string quartet, voice and electronics.
Making the innovative work part of the Harris’ 2014-15 season was a no-brainer, according to the theater’s president and managing director, Michael Tiknis. “We love Laurie Anderson,” he said. “When any institution sort of falls in love with an artist and their work, you’re always curious to see what the new thoughts are that are coming from that artist.”
“Landfall,” which draws on Anderson’s experiences when Hurricane Sandy smacked New York City in October 2012, is both a kind of sensorial account of that devastation and a meditation on the larger environmental challenges facing the world.
Like most of her works, it combines the old and new, marrying a string quartet and storytelling with such vanguard technology as a software program that translates the ensemble’s sounds into text that is projected onto a screen behind the performers.
As strange as it might seem, considering that Anderson and the 42-year-old Kronos Quartet have long occupied a similar experimental realm within the music world, they had never worked together before “Landfall.”
David Harrington, the Kronos’ founder and first violinist, said that he met Anderson backstage some 25 years ago at the Mershon Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio, and he immediately asked her to write a piece for the group – an invitation he renewed repeatedly.
But the timing never quite worked out until three years ago, when Anderson plunged into what would become “Landfall,” with the work not taking its final shape until shortly after the hurricane. It began with a series of sessions in which she joined the Kronos on her electronic violin.
“She’s a collector of sounds, and we would improvise together, and she would record everything,” Harrington said. “Maybe there would be three or four days of rehearsal at a session, and then each day things would get refined a little bit more, and a month later, we’d do the same thing. And this went on for six or eight months, and slowly the piece took shape.”
The resulting 70-minute work, which debuted at the University of Maryland in February 2013, has since been performed around the world, including Helsinki, Los Angeles, London and New York, and more dates are scheduled.
“It’s one of those pieces,” Harrington said, “that brings together so much of what Laurie has worked for 25 or 30 years to master, and it’s all kind of focused in one place in this piece. I think our audiences know that we’re having a really wonderful time playing music together – that’s clear.
“And it’s a beautiful and mysterious experience, this piece. It’s something that people who have talked to me afterward have said that it really stays with you as an experience. It’s what we all hoped it would be.”
Furthering its ties to the Kronos, the Harris announced in January a five-year agreement to be part of the quartet’s “Fifty for the Future” project in which the quartet will commission and premiere 50 new works – 10 per year – beginning in 2015-16.
Written by a diverse group of composers, 25 men and 25 women, the pieces will be geared to student musicians and budding professionals, with the Kronos Performing Arts Association providing the scores and a bevy of support materials online for free.
As illustrated by its ongoing relationship with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and eighth blackbird, Tiknis said, the Harris has had an on-going interest in exploring chamber music past, present and future.
“Kronos has made themselves not just contemporary,” he said, “but very important in the kinds of things they are exploring, and so the ability to join organizations around the world and not only support them but be part of nurturing their next level of development was very exciting.”
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.