The Kronos Quartet performs ‘At War With Ourselves — 400 Years of You’ at Hancher

Alongside writer Nikky Finney and choral group Tonality, the group performed music by Michael Abels and told the story of racism in America.


Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

David Harrington, a member of the Kronos Quartet, performs during the Michigan premiere of “A Thousand Thoughts” at Detroit Film Theatre on April 12, 2019.

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

Stories can be told in many ways. Through music, lights, colors, imagery, words, and more, stories come to life and create an unmatchable experience.

All of these storytelling aspects came together during “At War With Ourselves — 400 Years of You.” The performance joined The Kronos Quartet with music by Michael Abels, text and narration by poet Nikky Finney, and the choral group Tonality conducted by Valerie Sainte-Agathe.

The performance mixed choral song, spoken word, and instrumental music to capture the spirit of the story on Feb. 10 at Hancher Auditorium.

“I really like that there are opportunities to see live music,” Cecilia Shearon, a double major English and public policy in at the University of Iowa, said. “The idea behind the performance is really interesting to have music and also the very famous poet. That was exciting to even just read about.”

The song cycle revolved around a poem written by Finney, which is only a page long, and told the story of the experience of Black people throughout American history. The performance also touched on the history of racism in the U.S. Along with the text and music, lighting was used to emphasize the story and performer.

Jackie Fuentes, a UI dance major, said she found the combination of spoken word and live music to be relevant to the fine arts community.

The use of spoken word in this performance is a feature becoming more common in the music and dance worlds, Fuentes said, adding that it allows artists to create more immersive storytelling and artistic experiences.

Hancher is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which is something it has in common with The Kronos Quartet. This performance marks a special occasion for both organizations, and they wanted this performance to be something special in honor of the celebrations.

“It’s such a great space,” Fuentes said about Hancher. “There’s not many accessible fine arts spaces at this capacity where people actually feel like there is community engagement.”

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Hancher has had a long relationship with The Kronos Quartet, which is composed of four string musicians: two on violin, one on viola, and one on cello. The collaboration between Finney, Hancher, and The Kronos Quartet is an impressive display of how the artists of today want to make music and art to tell stories and bring people together.

The Kronos Quartet has also collaborated with worldwide composers such as Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley.

The quartet has released over 70 recordings, received more than 40 awards, and commissioned more than 1,000 works for its nonprofit organization Kronos Performing Arts Association.

Additionally, the group has performed with notable singers like Paul McCartney and David Bowie.

Maya St. Clair, who is in the music program at the UI, said she was excited to attend the performance. She said she likes learning from what other performers do so she can apply it to her own musical endeavors.

“It’s cool to watch other performers do their thing,” St. Clair said.

Hancher and the music programs at the UI made efforts to allow the community the opportunity to see the performance, including making announcements aimed at music students, Amanda Baker, a music student at the UI, said.

The organizations want to inspire and educate as many students as possible through attending events involving the arts.

Baker said she hopes to attend more events in the future — especially those involving music and stories. She said she enjoyed “At War With Ourselves — 400 Years of You,” and that she hopes to attend similar events in the future.

“Getting information about when all the performances and stuff are is great,” Baker said. “You have all the opportunities to go to things.”

Cecilia Shearon is a former staff member of the Daily Iowan.

Editor’s Note: In a previously published version of the article, Cecilia Shearon was cited as a music major, which is incorrect. Shearon is a double major English and public policy. The DI regrets this error.