Cadenza on the Night Plain
In the Bay Area institution Kronos Quartet’s prodigious commissioning, one name rings out more often than any of the hundreds of others: Terry Riley. Since 1984, the country’s definitive new-music ensemble has commissioned close to thirty pieces from the spiritual architect of American minimalism, whose germinal sixties works In C and A Rainbow in Curved Air altered the courses not only of classical music but also of popular rock and electronic genres.
After venturing far into the wilds of improvised music, Riley made his major return to notation with Cadenza on the Night Plain, written for Kronos, with whom he started collaborating in the late seventies. First performed in 1984, the spartan yet sprightly thirty-five minute work surprised and delighted those who associated Riley only with cellular pulses and weaving synthesizer patterns. In thirteen brisk, beautifully self-contained movements that snap between reverent and rollicking moods, Riley nestles global folk inferences and tuning systems into what leading critic Kyle Gann called “the archetypal Kronos piece.” In the liner notes of the 1985 album version, quartet founder David Harrington said that when playing the piece, his “instrument resonated in this totally new, ancient, and wholly unexpected way.”
The bond has only strengthened over the ensuing decades, and when Riley turned eighty in 2015, Nonesuch issued the cornucopian box set One Earth, One People, One Love: Kronos Plays Terry Riley. It featured significant new material from the time of Cadenza on the Night Plain, which anchors Kronos’s tribute to Riley at Big Ears, a concert that will also feature other selections from a voluminous, invaluable shared repertoire.