At Lisner, 9/11 in Words and Music

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Michael Gordon escorted his children to school two blocks north of the World Trade Center. He says one of the ill-fated airplanes flew over their heads.

As a composer, Gordon responded with "The Sad Park," a work for string quartet and tape, written for the Kronos Quartet, which gave the piece its Washington premiere Sunday night at Lisner Auditorium.

The 30-minute work is built from recorded comments made by preschoolers in Gordon's son's class who witnessed the destruction. But their voices were slowed down and stretched like taffy. Words became eerie syllables, curdled and wailing. They soared between Kronos's pulsating, groaning strings. Ultimately, a slow diminuendo gave way to a final jolt of chaos and a shock of electric feedback.

For better or worse, the hallowed Ground Zero is fertile ground for artists. But Gordon's composition is no gimmick. It's genuinely chilling.

The remainder of the program found Kronos in its familiar world-music mode. Ram Narayan's "Raga Mishra Bhairavi" showed off a sensual solo from violist Hank Dutt. And composer Derek Charke's "Cercle du Nord III" adroitly blended Inuit throat singing with taped sounds of sled dogs and snowmobiles.

Kronos played with its customary intensity, especially in "Armenia," by the industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten. This must be the only piece for string quartet with OSHA requirements. Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler donned safety glasses, then set about sanding a large hunk of metal with an electric drill. Sparks flew as other Kronos members took turns pounding chunks of iron and sawing sheets of steel. A throbbing beat rumbled through loudspeakers. True heavy metal. But true gimmickry.

-- Tom Huizenga

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