Cornish College of the Arts Honors Dance and Classical Music Leaders at 2013 Commencement
March 12, 2013
President Nancy J. Uscher has announced that Cornish College of the Arts will honor Virginia Johnson, artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the members of the Kronos Quartet – David Harrington, John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola), and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello) – with honorary degrees this year. Ms. Johnson will also deliver the commencement address.
“Dance Theatre of Harlem is a cornerstone in contemporary dance and Virginia Johnson inspired our students when she led a masterclass last fall,” said President Uscher. “The Kronos Quartet, celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, demonstrates a fearless approach to their art that complements our equally adventurous graduates. I look forward to welcoming them all to Seattle.”
President Uscher will confer the degrees at the Cornish Commencement Ceremony at 4 pm on May 12, at Benaroya Hall. More than 180 students will receive Bachelor of Music or Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in art, dance, design, performance production or theater in this year’s ceremony.
Virginia Johnson stepped into the role of artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem in January 2010. She was a founding member and principal dancer with the company, where she danced for 28 years. She is the former editor-in-chief of Pointe magazine. Born in Washington, D.C., Johnson graduated from the Academy of the Washington School of Ballet. She briefly attended the School of the Arts at New York University where she was a University Scholar before joining DTH in 1969.
During her long association with that company, she performed most of the repertoire, with principal roles in Concerto Barocco, Allegro Brillante, Agon, A Streetcar Named Desire, Fall River Legend, Swan Lake, Giselle, Voluntaries, Les Biches and other ballets. Many of her performances in principal roles were recorded for broadcast and include A Streetcar Named Desire for Dance in America on PBS, Creole Giselle, which was the first full-length ballet broadcast on NBC, and Fall River Legend, which won a cable ACE award from the Bravo Network. In addition, she was included in two acclaimed television dance series, Margot Fonteyn’s The Magic of Dance and Natalia Makarova’s Ballerina.
Her choreographic credits include the television film, Ancient Voices of Children which she choreographed and danced, and an early solo concert which she choreographed and produced. Later choreographic works include ballets created for Goucher College, Dancers Respond to AIDS, the Second Annual Harlem Festival of the Arts, Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center and Marymount Manhattan College, where she was also an adjunct professor. The latter two projects were an outgrowth of Dancers Making Dances, a collaborative choreographic project with former DTH colleagues Judy Tyrus and Melanie Person.
As founding editor of Pointe, Johnson turned her energies to helping dancers prepare for the professional ballet world developing educational seminars and lectures on health and wellness for dancers, auditions, and professional preparation. She continues to lecture and teach master classes across the country.
Her honors include a Young Achiever Award from the National Council of Women, Outstanding Young Woman of America and the Dance Magazine Award, a Pen and Brush Achievement Award and the Washington Performing Arts Society’s 2008-2009 Pola Nirenska Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2009 Martha Hill Fund Mid-Career Award. Highlights of her guest appearances include a tour of Australia with “Stars of World Ballet,” several appearances at various International Festivals of Dance in Havana Cuba, and with the Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House in London. While still performing, her interest in journalism led her to Fordham University where she continues to pursue a degree in communications. Her commitment to community service is maintained through volunteer assignments with New York Cares.
For nearly 40 years, the Kronos Quartet—David Harrington, John Sherba (violins), Hank Dutt (viola), and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello)—has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to expanding the range and context of the string quartet. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 45 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most eclectic composers and performers, and commissioning more than 750 works and arrangements for string quartet. In 2011, Kronos became the only recipient of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians. The group’s numerous awards also include a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
Kronos’ adventurous approach dates back to the ensemble’s origins. In 1973, David Harrington was inspired to form Kronos after hearing George Crumb’s Black Angels, a highly unorthodox, Vietnam War-inspired work featuring bowed water glasses, spoken word passages, and electronic effects. Kronos then began building a compellingly diverse repertoire for string quartet, performing and recording works by 20th-century masters (Bartók, Shostakovich, Webern), contemporary composers (Aleksandra Vrebalov, John Adams, Alfred Schnittke), jazz legends (Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk) and artists from even farther afield (rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, Azeri vocalist Alim Qasimov, interdisciplinary composer/performer Meredith Monk).
Integral to Kronos’ work is a series of long-running, in-depth collaborations with many of the world’s foremost composers. One of the quartet’s most frequent composer-collaborators is “Father of Minimalism” Terry Riley, whose work with Kronos includes the early Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector; Cadenza on the Night Plain and Salome Dances for Peace; 2002’s Sun Rings, a multimedia, NASA-commissioned ode to the earth and its people, featuring celestial sounds and images from space; and Another Secret eQuation for youth chorus and string quartet, premiered at a concert celebrating Riley’s 75th birthday. Kronos commissioned and recorded the three string quartets of Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, with whom the group worked for more than 25 years. The quartet has also collaborated extensively with composers such as Philip Glass, recording his string quartets and scores to films like Mishima and Dracula (a restored edition of the Bela Lugosi classic); Azerbaijan’s Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, whose works are featured on the full-length 2005 release Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh; Steve Reich, whose Kronos-recorded Different Trains earned a Grammy for the composer; Argentina’s Osvaldo Golijov, whose work with Kronos includes both compositions and extensive arrangements for albums like Kronos Caravan and Nuevo; and many more.
In addition to composers, Kronos counts numerous artists from around the world among its collaborators, including the Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man; legendary Bollywood “playback singer” Asha Bhosle, featured on Kronos’ Grammy-nominated CD, You’ve Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman’s Bollywood; Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq; Mexican rockers Café Tacvba; genre-defying sound artist and instrument builder Walter Kitundu; the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks; renowned American soprano Dawn Upshaw; and the unbridled British cabaret trio, the Tiger Lillies. Kronos has performed live with the likes of icons Allen Ginsberg, Zakir Hussain, Modern Jazz Quartet, Noam Chomsky, Rokia Traoré, Tom Waits, David Barsamian, Howard Zinn, Betty Carter and David Bowie, and has appeared on recordings by such diverse talents as Nine Inch Nails, Amon Tobin, Dan Zanes, DJ Spooky, Dave Matthews, Nelly Furtado, Joan Armatrading and Don Walser.
Kronos’ music has also featured prominently in other media, including film (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, 21 Grams, Heat, True Stories) and dance, with noted choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, and Eiko & Koma setting pieces to Kronos’ music.
The quartet spends five months of each year on tour, appearing in concert halls, clubs and festivals around the world including BAM Next Wave Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, WOMAD, UCLA’s Royce Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Shanghai Concert Hall and the Sydney Opera House. Kronos is equally prolific and wide-ranging on recordings. The ensemble’s expansive discography on Nonesuch Records includes collections like Pieces of Africa (1992), a showcase of African-born composers, which simultaneously topped Billboard’s Classical and World Music lists; 1998’s ten-disc anthology, Kronos Quartet: 25 Years; Nuevo (2002), a Grammy- and Latin Grammy-nominated celebration of Mexican culture; and the 2003 Grammy winner, Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. The group’s latest releases are Floodplain (Nonesuch, 2009),spotlighting music from regions of the world riven by conflict; Rainbow (Smithsonian Folkways, 2010), in collaboration with musicians from Afghanistan and Azerbaijan; and Uniko (Ondine, 2011) with Finnish accordion/sampler duo Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen.
Kronos’ recording and performances reveal only a fraction of the group’s commitment to new music. As a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, the Kronos Performing Arts Association has commissioned more than 750 new works and arrangements for string quartet. Music publishers Boosey & Hawkes and Kronos have released sheet music for three signature works, all commissioned for Kronos, in the first volume of the Kronos Collection, a performing edition edited by Kronos. The quartet is committed to mentoring emerging professional performers, and in 2007 Kronos led its first Professional Training Workshop with four string quartets as part of the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. Subsequent workshops at Carnegie Hall and other venues have expanded this aspect of the quartet’s work. One of Kronos’ most exciting initiatives is the Kronos: Under 30 Project, a unique commissioning and composer-in-residence program for composers under 30 years old launched in conjunction with Kronos’ own 30th birthday in 2003. By cultivating creative relationships with such emerging talents and a wealth of other artists from around the world, Kronos reaps the benefit of decades of wisdom while maintaining a fresh approach to music-making inspired by a new generation of composers and performers.