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Since their founding in 1973, Kronos Quartet have become the foremost ambassador of contemporary chamber music, determined and successful at breaking down barriers between musical genres and between musicians and audiences.
David Harrington, the ensemble's founder and first violinist, was inspired to form the group after hearing George Crumb's Black Angels. By the end of the 1970s, Kronos settled into a tight collaboration between Harrington, violinist John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, and found a home base in San Francisco, California. At an early point, that initial musical inspiration and the audience reception at their performances led Kronos to devote themselves entirely to contemporary music and to present their music in a more relaxed environment than found at typical chamber music recitals.
As of 2010, the Quartet had commissioned more than 700 works and arrangements, not just for string quartet, but also for quartet plus other performers and even other sound sources. Kronos have had a particularly close working relationship with Terry Riley. In 2002, NASA commissioned Riley to write Sun Rings for Kronos, featuring sounds and images recorded by NASA instruments throughout the solar system. Other longstanding partnerships developed between Kronos and composers Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Henryk Górecki, Osvaldo Golijov, and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh.
Kronos' first big album was 1987's White Man Sleeps, and their 1989 recording of Reich's Different Trains won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition. Many of Kronos' other recordings have spent weeks at the top of Billboard's Classical Chart, with 2002's Nuevo nominated for both a Grammy and a Latin Grammy, and 2003's recording of Berg's Lyric Suite winning another Grammy for the ensemble. Kronos' recordings reflect their broad interests in jazz, world music, young composers, and film. In performance, they are just as catholic in their venues and collaborations, even working with several choreographers and multimedia artists.
In 1999, Jeanrenaud left the Quartet, and Jennifer Culp stepped in as the cellist. Culp left in 2005 following the recording of You've Stolen My Heart - Songs from R.D. Burman's Bollywood, and was replaced by Jeffrey Zeigler. Personnel changes aside, Kronos Quartet continue to appeal to an eclectic mix of listeners and to receive high praise for their championship of unique music. In 2011, just after the release of Uniko, a collaboration with accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen and sampling artist Samuli Kosminen, it was announced that Kronos had received both the Avery Fisher Prize (U.S.) and the Polar Music Prize (Sweden) for their exceptional achievements.