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On Center: Kronos Quartet to perform music from Muslim-majority nations at Penn State

by on December 31, 2019 12:57 PM

For more than four decades, Kronos Quartet has been introducing American audiences to the works of composers from the far-flung corners of the world. But when the San Francisco ensemble comes to Penn State next month, it will perform a program prompted by a political debate about specific countries.

“As a direct protest to the Executive Orders limiting travel to the United States by people from largely Muslim-majority countries, Kronos Quartet will perform a program featuring music that highlights the rich diversity of artistic voices from Muslim-majority countries,” the group states as its motivation for the program Music for Change: The Banned Countries.

Iranian vocalist Mahsa Vahdat, who lives in the San Francisco area, will join Kronos February 18 at Eisenhower Auditorium for a selection of music from their recent collaboration album Placeless.

“Drawn from throughout the far-flung Muslim world,” the presentation’s program notes state, “the concert features newly commissioned arrangements, such as ‘Dooyo’ by Somalia’s Dur-Dur Band and ‘Ya Mun Dakhal Bahr Al-Hawa’ (‘Hey, Who Enters the Sea of Passion?’) by Yemen’s Fatimah Al-Zaelaeyah, as well as pieces gleaned from Kronos’ longstanding repertoire.”

“As the most far-ranging ensemble geographically, nationally, and stylistically the world has known, the Kronos was easily within its comfort zone,” a Los Angeles Times reviewer writes about a Music for Change performance. “… This was a journey of discovery for which the audience couldn’t quite be prepared. One listened with wonderment.”

Kronos – David Harrington and John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) – merges a spirit of exploration with a commitment to reinvent what it means to be a string quartet. The group has become one of the world’s most influential ensembles, performing thousands of concerts, releasing more than 60 recordings, collaborating with many of the most accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 1,000 works and arrangements.

The ensemble appears at prestigious concert halls, clubs, and festivals. It’s equally prolific and wide-ranging on recordings, including two Grammy-winning albums – Landfall with Laurie Anderson (2018) and Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite featuring Dawn Upshaw (2003). Other recent releases include Ladilikan with Trio Da Kali, an ensemble of Malian griot musicians, and Clouded Yellow by Bang on the Can founding composer Michael Gordon.

At Penn State, where the quartet has previously performed three times, Paul Wiancko will be guest cellist because of Yang’s maternity leave.

Vahdat, a native of Tehran, is a prominent performer of Persian vocal music and an advocate of freedom of expression. Her career has given a deeper knowledge about Iranian poetry and music to audiences across five continents. While her style is based on the Persian vocal traditions of classical and regional folk music, she sings with a contemporary expression. She composes most of her songs, typically using poems by classical writers such as Hafez and Rumi or contemporary ones like Fourogh Farokhzad and Mohammad Ibrahim Jafari.


Support for programming at the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State is provided, in part, by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For tickets or information, go to or call (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.



John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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