Dan Visconti Wins Kronos Quartet's Under 30 Project
The sound of a needle as it hits the vinyl—those familiar snaps, crackles, and the discordant, unexpected pops that resonate fluidity and jaggedness simultaneously. The syncopated scratchiness that plays accompanist to the guttural chords pulled from a throbbing blues guitar. Lyrics steeped in masculinity, yet with an undeniable undercurrent of fragility and vulnerability. That is the substance of composer Dan Visconti’s newest string work entitled Love Bleeds Radiant, a piece commissioned for the Kronos Quartet that captures the strident contradictions blues music evokes.
Visconti is the third composer to win the Kronos: Under 30 Project, a three-pronged compositional contest conceived by the groundbreaking Kronos Quartet in collaboration with the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College and the American Music Center.
The annual contest, created three years ago, is a way to tap into the under-30 crowd’s creative genius.
“The idea came up when the group was getting ready to celebrate the 30th year of Kronos. How could we make a positive contribution and how could we learn what’s going on?” explains Kronos’ founding violinist David Harrington. “Plus, we grew up in the era when you didn’t trust anyone over 30.”
But the ensemble did trust Visconti, who beat out more than 300 composers from all over the globe. Visconti’s winning entry received its debut on January 14 at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
The work received its second performance in April for audiences at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
A classically-trained violinist, the Illinois-born Visconti is a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to strings, not playing seriously until the age of 14 and continuing throughout his teenage years before trading in his bow for a guitar pick.
These days, the 24-year-old musician and composer is pursuing a doctorate in composition at the Yale School of Music. He completed his undergraduate and masters work at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he is also a teacher.
Drawing upon the young composer’s interest in early music, blues, and ultra-modern music, Love Bleeds Radiant opens with the recognizable scratching of a 78-rpm record, a pre-recorded backdrop that is a mix of live string quartet and electronic manipulation that permeates the music throughout the duration of the piece. Demanding its executors to play with and against the special effect, the work is a heartfelt tribute to the past that bumps flush, and sometimes violently, with the present.
“The thing that I think came out most in this piece was the conflict between a very pure, almost viol-like, sound that was influenced by early music, and this other sound that was influenced by a really wild sense of, really kind of whack-it-out feedback and distortion,” Visconti says. “One of the things I was really happy with is the way not only do those battle each other in an oppositional way, but they can become each other.”
Past recipients of Kronos: Under 30 commissions include Alexandra du Bois, the contest’s first winner, whose creation String Quartet: Oculus Pro Oculo Totum Orbem Terrae Caecat has enjoyed performances throughout the United States and Europe. Recently, du Bois, a Juilliard grad, was called upon a second time by Kronos. As a result, she created Night Songs (Nachtliederen), String Quartet No. 3, which received its world premiere March 15 at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford University.
“My feeling is if something is good once, it’s worth doing a second time,” Harrington says of the group’s decision to commission repeat works from the Under 30 winners.
“It seemed like there was a whole generation of composers all over the world who are influenced by all kinds of things, things we don’t even know about yet,” says Harrington.
“It’s been a fantastic experience for us. You just never know where you are going to hear something incredibly wonderful, or alarming and disturbing.”
Composers interested in applying to the Kronos: Under 30 Project, No. 4, should check the group’s website at kronosquartet.org.