Kronos Quartet violinist coaches PTHS music students

Posted 11/13/19

While audiences of the Centrum Chamber Ensemble Series at the Wheeler Theater got the chance to check out a performance by the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet on the evening of Nov. 6, Port …

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Kronos Quartet violinist coaches PTHS music students

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While audiences of the Centrum Chamber Ensemble Series at the Wheeler Theater got the chance to check out a performance by the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet on the evening of Nov. 6, Port Townsend teenagers got a more intimate experience.

Centrum’s Gregg Miller reached out to Port Townsend High School music teacher Daniel Ferland and that’s how the morning of Nov. 5 saw David Harrington, founding member and first violinist of the Kronos Quartet, pay a visit to Ferland’s class to work with some local student musicians.

Ferland noted that the Kronos Quartet “is one of the premier string quartets in the world today,” and that Harrington helped to form the ensemble 45 years ago. Since then, the Kronos Quartet has logged 60 recordings and 40 awards, including the WOMEX (World Music Expo) Award in 2018, which it was the first U.S.-based group to earn.

When Miller contacted Ferland earlier this year about having Harrington provide a coaching session for his students, Ferland jumped at the opportunity.

“I was ecstatic,” Ferland said. “The idea that someone of this caliber would work with our students is amazing. One of the incredible things about Port Townsend is having access to world class musicians who visit our area, and for David to give up his time to inspire our students is incredible.”

As part of the Kronos Quartet’s stated commitment to modern music, it’s developed a program called “50 for the Future,” with Carnegie Hall as a lead partner, to commission 50 new works for string ensembles.

“I looked through the catalogue, and was immediately drawn to a piece entitled ‘At the Purchasers’ Option,’” Ferland said. “It’s a work composed by Carolina Chocolate Drops leader Rhiannon Giddens, and commissioned for string quartet arrangement for the project.”

According to Giddens, the work was inspired by a 19th-century advertisement she found for a 22-year-old female slave, whose baby was also available for sale, but “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

In 2017, The Guardian’s review of the song stated, “Giddens transformed this bleak discovery into a furious cry of defiance, the most pained and powerful song of a triumphant and varied set.”

“I immediately downloaded the music, which we started working on about three weeks beforehand, in preparation for David’s arrival,” Ferland said. “At first, we found the rhythms and style a little difficult, but as we listened to both the Kronos recording and the original lyrics by Giddens, the students have really started to understand the musical intent, and the power of what the work can be and have on the listener.”

As challenging as it was, both Ferland and his students enjoyed the clinic.

“It was so great seeing David work with the students,” Ferland said, noting that both Harrington and the students seemed like they were having “a great time” together. “He was very relatable to the kids, very relaxed.”

Harrington even mentioned to Ferland that working with high school students, and sharing his knowledge with them, “keeps his energy level high, and keeps him feeling young.”

Harrington was especially focused on training the students how to pull the bow for a better sound quality, as well as adopting the best posture to facilitate their performances.

“You need your whole body,” Harrington said. “The bow is the breath. The instrument will tell you if it likes what you did. The great thing about music is, you’re always going to get better. The idea is to create a mosaic of music.”

Harrington described “At the Purchaser’s Option” as “an essential bit of knowledge we all need to know about our history,” and tied it into his exhortation that a musician needs to become “part of something much larger than yourself.”

PTHS student musicians praised the experience as “very mentally fulfilling,” while classmate and violinist Camryn Hines said, “It was amazing to get help from someone with so much experience in this craft.”

The PTHS Chamber Ensemble is made up of 16 members, and is preparing for a free performance Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Port Townsend.

The joint concert is also set to include the Port Townsend Ladies Baroque Ensemble, as well as special guest performers Gwen Franz on viola, Marina Rosenquist on violin and Lisa Lanza on piano.

The concert is free and open to the public, but donations will be accepted and will go to benefit the PTHS Orchestra program, which is raising money for a trip to Los Angeles in the spring, to see the LA Philharmonic and participate in a recording session at Capitol Records.

For more information or to submit an online donation, please visit www.PTHSMusic.com.

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