Unique Live Music Documentary Coming to The Wexner Center
Both filmmaker Sam Green and the Kronos Quartet—separately— have a long history with the Wexner Center for the Arts.
“This goes back to 1800s,” laughs Green. “No, but it feels like that. I first came to the Wexner Center in 1996 and have been back many times, both working there in the residency program and doing screenings of work.”
The Kronos relationship began even earlier, having performed at the Wexner Center opening in 1989.
On Thursday, January 25, the filmmaker and quartet return to the Wexner center—together, this time—to perform an event that pulls from the strengths of both their fields.
Says Green of A Thousand Thoughts: A Live Documentary by Sam Green and Kronos Quartet, “In my mind it’s taking the best of two forms—cinema and live music—what’s most powerful about them, and combining. We take the cinematic magic of movies and radical empathy with people on the screen and combine that with the power of being in the same room with performers, seeing something that will never be the same twice. Those two things together can make dynamite – or I hope they can!”
How is this different from a traditional documentary?
“The director is onstage speaking and leading the audience through the action, that’s one difference,” says David Harrington, violinist, composer and founder of Kronos Quartet. “The subject of the documentary is also onstage and will be providing much of the soundtrack, which will be live. And it’s never going to be the same twice in terms of the timing because the various sections are triggered live by Sam.”
“It’s really taking the essence of what cinema is about—huge images and music washing over you—and using it to its fullest,” Green says.
Both filmmaker and subject believe the result offers the best of both worlds: presenting what can be done cinematically that you can’t really capture onstage and at the same time offering the vibrancy of a live, ever-changing musical event.
According to Green, the project has its roots in a short film he was asked to create for the ensemble’s 40th anniversary appearance at Carnegie Hall.
“I didn’t really know a lot about the Kronos Quartet, but I looked through their archive in San Francisco and I looked into all their music and I was absolutely taken with them,” Green remembers. “There are a lot of things about them that just got me. From the whole fact that their music is just great to the idea that they’ve been around for 40 years. Artists who’ve been working together for 40 years and are still vital and creative, that really interested me. Four people working together for so long create a kind of organic almost being between them that is the sum of their collaboration and their time rehearsing, and that really interested me.”
“He made this beautiful kind of introduction that we used on many of our concerts that year,” Harrington remembers.
On the success of the short, Kronos manager Janet Cowperthwaite approached Green about making a longer piece on the group. He said no.
“I hate music documentaries,” he says “They’re so dull and predictable. But something kind of nagged at me. I’d been making these live cinema pieces and I thought it’d really be perfect. The thing is, the music can really be at the forefront, whereas in a regular documentary it kind of has to be the story of the group. With them, it made sense for the music to be the center of the piece. So I pitched them that idea. To their credit, they were like, ‘I don’t quite get it, but sure, let’s do it.’ They’re very adventurous.”
“That idea just seemed like a really interesting kind of wonderful way to approach a documentary about the work of Kronos,” Harrington says. But it wasn’t easy.
“The first couple times we tried to run through, there were moments I thought I couldn’t do it, actually,” Harrington remembers. “There are some painful aspects to this, as well as some incredibly happy aspects. But the tough stuff was really, really tough.”
“This is not a tribute to them,” Green clarifies. “It uses a part of them to touch on bigger ideas about time passing and loss and the mysterious nature of music and the profound strength and power of the human spirit. A lot of bigger ideas weave in and out of the piece, so I hope that some of that lingers with people.”
“You’re seeing and kind of sensing the way one thing turns into another,” Harrington says. “In that sense it’s incredibly musical because that’s the way music works: one note leads you to another note.”
Green, Harrington and the rest of Kronos Quartet will perform A Thousand Thoughts: A Live Documentary by Sam Green and Kronos Quartet Thursday, January 25 at 8pm.
Tickets are $29 for members, $34 for general public and $15 for students.
For more information, visit wexarts.org.