There is one thing violinist and Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington tells every composer who creates works for his group: The greatest piece of music has not yet been written.
It is a formidable challenge, but one that has clearly paid off for the revered West Coast string quartet, which has commissioned more than 800 works from top composers and collaborated with artists from David Bowie to Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man to Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
They also know how to throw a birthday party. Celebrating their 40th anniversary, the San Francisco-based group is performing a concert at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts that features the world premiere of a new work by composer Philip Glass – his first for the quartet in 17 years. To mark the occasion, Mr. Glass will also give a talk, hosted by CBC's Eleanor Wachtel, before the concert.
"During the planning and writing of String Quartet No. 6, he said he wanted to write his best quartet," Mr. Harrington says, adding that the work starts energetically and ends even more energetically, and takes Mr. Glass's harmonic language and dramatic ability to a whole new dimension.
"It's challenging to play; it's fun to play, and from the first note to the last, you have to really concentrate to play the piece, so it's got us on the edge of our chairs."
The evening's eclectic program also features the Canadian premiere of a new work by Montreal composer Nicole Lizée (Mr. Harrington says the audience "went nuts" when they premiered it in Portland, Ore., last week); a work by Geeshie Wiley, whom Mr. Harrington calls one of the least known but greatest U.S. musicians; and other pieces by creators from Turkish Ottoman composer Tanburi Cemil Bey to Toronto plunderphonics mastermind John Oswald.
And while some performers would tire after four decades of rehearsing and touring, Mr. Harrington says that for him, making music is more exciting than it has ever been.
"We are being energized by musicians from all over the world right now. The music that is being written for us and is coming our way is sensational, never been better," he says. "It's a great time to be a musician and we've had all these experiences that push us into the future. So it's wonderful."