Superheroes: CMW Players and Kronos in Review

204photo by Erin X. Smithers

The recent co-commission by Community MusicWorks and FirstWorks created a spectacular concert event that inspired this review by New Music Box writer Matthew Guerrieri, excerpted here: 

"The end of Kronos Quartet’s concert in Providence on November 8 was almost designedly apt. At the close of Kareem Roustom’s A Voice Exclaimed (a world premiere), Kronos—surrounded onstage by faculty and students from Providential superheroes Community MusicWorks—began sending snatches of Middle-Eastern-tinted melody out into the Rhode Island School of Design Auditorium. These melodies were promptly echoed back by a sudden ingress of even more MusicWorks students, processing in from the back and sides of the hall. Kronos, the pied pipers of contemporary string quartet music, had enticed another crowd into their circle.

A Voice Exclaimed provided a showcase for Kronos, the exceptional work MusicWorks is doing, and the sense of community involvement and pride that MusicWorks has fostered. That theatrical ending tied together the whole package—the piece, the players, the production, the process."

Read the full review here.

In the Yale news

The Yale Daily News recently featured an update on Sebastian's "Music and Service" course, as he continues the semester as visiting lecturer at the Yale School of Music this fall:

Ever since musician Sebastian Ruth joined the School of Music as a visiting lecturer this fall, his broad portfolio of work in community outreach through music has proven a strong asset to the Music School’s community.

Ruth has been nationally recognized for his work as founder and director of Community MusicWorks — ­­a public service group that allows musicians to help urban communities in Providence, R.I. through outreach to the city’s children and their families. In 2010, Ruth and Community MusicWorks were awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by first lady Michelle Obama and Ruth received the esteemed MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

“What impresses me so much about [Ruth] is he asks why we should do this… That, to me, is a really important question,” Yale School of Music Dean Michael Yaffe said.

Read the full piece, here.

On Kareem Roustom’s “A Voice Exclaiming”

We are invited into a conversation in the dark. Velvet curtains are rich, rippling in midnight blue light. We're sitting together in the hall, nearly six hundred of us. It's not a dream, although parts of the concert will unfold with the unexpectedness of a dream, will provoke emotion and longing. There is a half moon of musicians behind the four members of Kronos Quartet – The CMW Players, Fellows and students filling out the semi-circle, waiting to perform Kareem Roustom's "A Voice Exclaiming," a commission by Community MusicWorks and FirstWorks, three years in the making.

From David Harrington's first bow stroke, we know that Roustom will get the Kronos treatment: Urgency. Urgency of necessary response, of risk, of questioning the world. And these questions will reverberate to the audience in the way that great art makes us question ourselves and our basic preconceptions.

From the beginning of the first movement, I wonder: What am I hearing? The familiar opening of a Western concert piece? But I'm also hearing Arabic rhythms that recall traditional classic orchestras, simple songs. Arabic basics that might be heard in a taxi or cafe in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Syria.

As in other Kronos pieces, I grasp onto a rhythm. But then, the rhythm is broken off. It is repeated when I don't expect it. The cells of the song keep bouncing around. Where is home? Do we know? The classical Arabic phrase that was started and interrupted reappears on the other side of the stage, played by CMW students suddenly under a spotlight. The spotlight had been on them, only we weren't looking at them. Suddenly we're looking at the kids. A cellist, a violinist, these young students are adding their voices to the music along with these seasoned and charismatic professionals.

We smile. We are taken in. There is a drama. Where will it surface next, in what form? Shapeshifting is a way of not being fixed on one immovable idea.

The melody played by Hank Dutt's viola in the second movement is unbearably moving. It is from the Easter ceremony of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is langourous, reminding us that the human voice with its slurs and scales is the most powerful voice of all. But it reminds me of a lament I heard half an hour before, in the cello of Sunny Yang playing "Sim Sholom." It was a Jewish lament sung on the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Christian Orthodox, Jews. Cries from the heart sound remarkably similar!

Following the spotlight, I look at David Harrington. Judging from his body language, he's crossed borders too. At the beginning of the concert, he was a tight ball of rock-star anxiety ("Aheym"). He was pure energy that left his bow in tatters ("…hold me, neighbor, in this storm…"). He is now sensual, making figure eights with his neck, his eyes closed. His violin's voicing is ethereal, just a whisper.

Elegy, the tone of the piece has been set. We have entered deep into the shadows of sorrow for the deaths of victims in Syria, in war and abuse. Or it has entered us. As the orchestra moves into the celebration of the final movement, Dabkè, (Line Dance), elegy is not forgotten but the pace picks up. The dance is delicate, and the voice of student players is heard.

Suddenly, Harrington raises his hand in invitation – cellists trot out to the front of the stage and begin to play! They are eye-level with us, playing a piece of a composer sitting in the audience. Harrington makes another gesture: Let there be more! Kids are hovering at the top of the stairs like cherubim, a heavenly choir. As if descending from clouds, they slowly go from darkness into light. The drama, the surprise of the young generation stirs a range of competing emotions. From delight to sorrow in the presence of beauty to hope, I asked myself: Where am I? Church? Art space? Western concert hall? That was such a wonderful moment of disorientation. It was full of questioning. But even more important than the questioning was the mysterious dissolving of questioning. The questions all folded together, contradictions melted, fusing into the moment. The moment lingered, the moment was IT.

-Jill Pearlman

Providence-based writer Jill Pearlman worked in music journalism in New York for over a decade. She's currently tapping some of her experiences for her novel, Clio's Mobile Home.


In today’s ProJo: Kronos Quartet, Community MusicWorks student performers come together for homage to Syria


photo by Jay Blakesberg

In today's Providence Journal, Arts Writer Channing Gray writes:

"It has taken three years for the pieces to fall into place. But
Friday, a bold partnership will come to fruition on the stage of the
RISD Auditorium.

Three generations of musicians will team up to
perform the premiere of a new work for three string quartets by Kareem
Roustom, a 42-year-old Syrian-American composer who lives in Sharon,
Mass. The Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet will be on hand, along with the
resident quartet from Providence’s Community MusicWorks and a group of
its students.

Roustom’s piece, called “A Voice Exclaiming,” grew
out of talks between Kronos founder David Harrington and Community
MusicWorks’ Sebastian Ruth. Ruth, who has known Roustom for years, had
been on a trip to Israel and came home with the flavors of Middle
Eastern music in his ears.

At the same time, Harrington had just
seen a documentary about residents in the West Bank protesting the
erection of an Israeli barrier in their village. The film is called
“Budrus,” and Roustom wrote the music for it.

So when Ruth and
Harrington started talking about a joint commission, Roustom came to
mind. And when the two approached the sponsoring FirstWorks arts series,
things came together, said Roustom…."

Read the full piece here.

The Kronos Quartet performs Friday at 8 p.m. at the Rhode Island
School of Design Auditorium, 17 Canal Walk, Providence. Tickets are
$28-$65 and available online at or by calling (401) 421-4281.