Sponsored in part by the Anthony E. Perrotti Great Performances Endowment
Del Sol String Quartet with Stephen Kent, Didjeridu
A leading force advancing the classical music tradition the Del Sol String Quartet won First Prize for Adventurous Programming (Mixed Repertory), January 2006, Chamber Music America/ASCAP.
The quartet, a dynamic, San Francisco-based ensemble "steeped in bravery and imagination," is recognized for its ability to showcase living composers in relevant, responsive and deeply passionate performances. Del Sol commissions and introduces new work from prominent and emerging composers, collaborates with other musicians across cultures and genres, and presents a Bay Area season concert series.
Del Sol also appears on programs presented by other organizations, including Other Minds, San Francisco Performances, Montalvo Arts Center and Santa Fe New Music/Santa Fe Opera.
"The Del Sol String Quartet gives the kind of performance a composer loves to hear!" -- Joan Tower, composer
“…the Del Sol Quartet stands outs less for packing bewilderingly various elements into its programs than for doing it with such ease and stylishness.” Michelle Dulak Thomson, San Francisco Classical Voice
With beginnings in Uganda, and the seed sown there of a lifetime of interest in global cultures, it is no surprise that Stephen Kent has traveled the world, living at various times in Africa, England, Spain, Australia and, for the last 15 years, The San Francisco Bay Area. In Australia, in 1981, as music director of Circus Oz, he first connected with Australian Aboriginal culture and the Didjeridu (also known as a Didj, Didge, or Didgeridoo).
Inspired by the power of the land, and the support the group gave to Aboriginal issues, he learned circular breathing and wrote music for brass instruments, sounding unmistakably like the Didjeridu.
While he has always had great respect for Aboriginal people and their culture Stephen has never tried to imitate traditional styles on the Didjeridu.
Instead he has pioneered his own unique style, with the Didjeridu at the center of his many compositions in contemporary music. Widely regarded as one of the pioneering innovators in the modern world of the Didj, he was a founder of the groups Trance Mission, Lights in a Fat City, Beasts of Paradise, and Furious Pig and has made five solo CDs, with more imminent releases concentrating on the Didj forthcoming. A recurring presence throughout Stephen’s recording career from *Lights In a Fat City” to “Oil & Water,” has been producer Simon Tassano. His new project, “Living Labyrinths (Family Tree),” a live recording, is a record of his first-time meeting with a computer (programmed by Greg Kuhn) in Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes, on the Summer Solstice. This is the first of a new trilogy of solo Didjeridu releases he is working on.
Musical collaborations are at the heart of Kent’s work. Some of his more recent collaborations include artists as diverse as Tuvan throat singers Chirgilchin, Korean Samulnori Drummers, frame drum wizard Glen Velez, Japanese Taiko luminary Leonard Eto, Markus James & the Wassonrai, flute legend Paul Horn, Airto Moreira, multi-media group Magnetic Poets at the Torino Olympics, and vocalist Eda Maxym’s new band Imagination Club, in which he plays guitar & other instruments, as well as the didj. He also spent a day opening for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, at Stanford University.
Past projects and collaborations of note include, Zap Mama, Habib Koite & Bamada, Megadrums, Omar Sosa, Badi Assad, Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter, Steve Sheehan, Mino Cinelu, Michel Portal, Boukman Eksperyans, and the legendary ex-Doors drummer, John Densmore, among many others. He continues to perform all over the world.
Composer Peter Sculthorpe
“The first half of the program was dominated by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe’s 16th String Quartet. Several of Sculthorpe’s later quartets contain optional parts for didgeridoo, the Australian aboriginal wind instrument whose startling low drones are kept going by circular breathing. Kent and the Del Sols gave this one its didgeridoo-included premiere a little over a year ago at San Francisco’s Other Minds Festival.
“The piece is in five brief movements, the didgeridoo appearing in all but the central one. Its subject is the experience of asylum-seekers — mostly people who fled Afghanistan and its environs in the wake of 9/11 and the U.S.-led war against the Taliban — who reached Australia only to be held in remote internment camps. The odd-numbered movements take their thematic material, Sculthorpe writes, from ‘an ancient love song from Central Afghanistan.’ The intervening movements are brusque scherzos titled, respectively, ‘Anger’ and ‘Trauma.’
“From the quartet came yearning, passionate strains, moments of eerie calm, and strange birdcalls. Sculthorpe seems particularly fond of the ‘seagull-cry’ effect that a cellist can make with a glissando in artificial harmonics (a device first introduced into a piece, I think, by George Crumb in his 1971 Vox Balaenae). But in addition to the gulls there came flocks of other, weirder fowl; the end of the fourth movement was beset by them, chattering and squawking sul ponticello.
“The didgeridoo most obviously anchored the music with its powerful low drone (on three different pitches over the course of the piece), but there were subsidiary effects — not only the wash of higher harmonics that is the instrument’s most characteristic sound, but also a startlingly physical rhythmic huffing in places and, once, a wild call like an elephant’s bellowing.
#The last movement, ‘Freedom,’ is meant to represent ‘dreams of a free life beyond confined spaces and razor-wire fences.’ The opening, though lovely, initially affected me as cheap: Here was the Afghani tune of the first and third movements, only now rendered in radiant major mode, all its anguish (and all its augmented seconds) vanished. Complexities and tensions crept in over time, though, and the music took on a richer sort of elevation. In places, the string harmonics and the wash of harmonics from the didgeridoo meshed in such a way that I couldn’t tell which was which. It was heady stuff, and played with dedication and concentration.
Michelle Dulak Thomson, San Francisco Classical Voice
“At a recent concert at the Library of Congress, the Del Sol Quartet, praised by critics as ‘emotionally riveting,’ ‘immediately engrossing and consuming,’ ‘first rate,’ and ‘taut and propulsive,’ premiered a work by Grawemeyer Award-winning composer, Chinary Ung, commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation, plus works by Kui Dong, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Peter Sculthorpe’s Quartet no.16 for string quartet and didgeridoo. “