KRONOS QUARTET in "Salome Dances for Peace," by Terry Riley. Cliff Lodge, Snowbird, July 28 at 7:30 p.m.
Kronos has been back in Utah this week with an interesting major proj-ect - to finish off learning and to perform Riley's "Salome Dances for Peace," Parts One and Two. Their concert on Thursday drew a capacity audience to Snowbird's Golden Cliff Room, not all of whom endured to the end.The first part of this composition (1985), much the shorter, finds Salome among the American Indians, in a series of dances or races; a sort of minimalist dance suite. The second, composed in 1986, runs to extreme lengths (an hour and 15 minutes) and is recognizably a string quartet.
But minimalism is something you have to have time for, or make time for, presenting your mind as a willing sacrifice. If you feel imposed upon by its lengths or its repetitions, you will never come to appreciate its subtleties. Surely one seeking to become conversant with this new musical language could have no better guide than the Kronos Quartet.
What kind of a girl is this Salome, who dances for peace? Certainly not like her vulgar Biblical namesake, nor is she a militant crusader like Jane Fonda. No, Riley's Salome is more of a barefoot wanderer, perhaps a Diane Keaton type, or maybe Mia Farrow; definitely a Woody Allen sort of heroine, who makes magical little discoveries and gives gentle insights along her way, and is somehow quite wonderfully organized around a theme.
As always, with a penchant for clarity that amounts almost to the dissectionist's skill, Kronos made the audience aware of this work's structure and its means while neglecting no facet of its musicality. Indeed, melodies happen often in this music, which is lyrical, almost romantic.
Riley shuns dynamic extremes, choosing to make his point through increasing complexity rather than volume. Hence this music stays pretty much on a level, never becoming violent, and seldom dropping off to a whisper. Tonality is always present, though sometimes uncertain and shifting. The music has a polyphonic feeling as well, each instrument taking its own course but coming to points of harmonic resolution, almost by chance.
And while sections are often built on very simple motifs, their development may be as dense and complex as the issues that Salome confronts, like the first movement of Part Two, "Conquest of the War Demons," which starts simply enough but builds up an amazing network of intertwining themes, which Kronos made clear and cogent.
Riley likes a pedal tone in the cello or viola, letting the others decorate with fixed patterns like five finger exercises, or scales, with progressive slight alterations. Colorations are fascinating, sometimes sounding like woodwinds, or glass instruments, or windchimes, even an occasional bagpipe. He is very good at eerie, echoing effects, as in "Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight." Or you spot jazzy rhythms, as in the gossipy "Salome Meets Wild Talker."
He likes glissando effects, sliding chromatically or using quarter-tones. Rhythms change at a whim, sometimes doubling up, sometimes with no set pattern at all, again proceeding with rote-like rigidity.
One was reminded of a dragonfly, which hovers for a time in one spot, fluttering its wings, then takes off erratically for another location to again hover and extemporize. We understand that Salome's quest for peace is successful - perhaps the inevitable outcome of such peaceful music.