Over the course of a decade, Bang on a Can founding composer Michael Gordon has collaborated with the world-renowned Kronos Quartet on a series of provocative works that have sought to stretch, bend and otherwise reshape the boundaries of modern classical music. Clouded Yellow assembles these works for the first time, perfectly encapsulating the breadth and complexity of this long-standing creative partnership. On May 5, Kronos and Gordon celebrate the album’s release with an intimate performance at Joe’s Pub.
Clouded Yellow features four pieces written for Kronos by Gordon: the title track (composed in 2010), Exalted (2010), The Sad Park (2006) and Potassium (2000). The title of the first refers to the clouded yellow butterfly, which is known in England for its mass migrations; the word “clouded” is also meant to describe the blurred harmonies and melodies of the piece.
Potassium is for amplified string quartet and electronics, with a fuzz box used throughout to lend a mysterious distortion to the sound. (In the periodic table of the elements, potassium is represented by the symbol K, which is also a sly dedication to the group.) The Sad Park is accompanied by recordings of children ages 3 to 4 and their responses to the tragic events of 9/11. (The recordings were made by schoolteacher Loyan Beusoleil; Gordon’s son was in Beusoleil’s class at the time.)
“It’s not meant to be political,” Gordon told National Public Radio’s Tom Huizenga in 2011. “This actually happened to me and my family and my child. In a sense, I was just trying to grab onto a tiny bit of that moment and leave it as a document.” Exalted, which also features the Young People’s Chorus of New York City conducted by Francisco Núñez, sets the opening of the Jewish Kaddish in Aramaic, connecting the choral voices of mourning to those of the children in The Sad Park.
As one of the architects of the Bang on a Can Marathon, a day-long celebration of new music that has become a veritable New York City institution since its inaugural 1987 staging at the former Exit Art performance space in SoHo, Michael Gordon has earned his reputation, in the words of the New Yorker’s Alex Ross, as Bang on a Can’s “resident experimentalist.” Similarly, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience. The Grammy-winning group has released more than 60 recordings and commissioned more than 950 works and arrangements for string quartet.
Clouded Yellow will be released on May 4 on Cantaloupe Music.