Of Swedish Meatballs, The Kronos Quartet and Diamanda Galas
June 6, 2011
A few days ago, Barbara Sachs Osher, the Honorary Swedish Consul General in San Francisco and a well-known philanthropist and chair of the Bernard Osher Foundation, hosted a dinner for the members of the Kronos Quartet.
The San Francisco-based string ensemble recently won the 2011 Polar Music Prize, Sweden's most prestigious music award. The prize, which Kronos won in tandem with Patti Smith, is typically shared by a pop artist and a classical musician. It was founded by Stig Anderson, the manager of the Swedish pop group ABBA, in 1989.
The musicians are flying to Stockholm in August to accept the prize of 1 million kronor ($166,000) and shake the hand of Sweden's King.
The dinner provided an opportunity for guests to eat Swedish meatballs and exchange anecdotes about ABBA. It seemed like everyone in the room had an ABBA story, whether it was to do with bumping into one of the members of the rock band running through the forest or how a favorite ABBA song transformed a key moment in someone's life.
I'm wracking my brains to remember what it is that David Harrington, the leader of Kronos, said about ABBA in the short, sweet speech he made during the dinner. Whatever his reminiscence about Sweden's premiere pop cultural export was, it didn't leave as strong an impression on me as the discussion we had over the buffet table about Diamanda Galas.
While filling our plates with delicious food, Harrington told me about the Kronos Quartet's collaboration with the amazing Greek-American avant-garde composer and vocalist a while back. The tracks were scheduled to be the apex of a Kronos' album but then Galas changed her mind about the music and ordered the ensemble to pull her contribution from the CD.
Harrington described this decision of Galas' as one of the low points of his career. It had been an amazing musical collaboration and the violinist couldn't get his head around why Galas refused to allow the music to be heard. Harrington has forgiven Galas for the stunt she pulled, but there's still some lingering befuddlement bordering on resentment there.
One day, hopefully, the singer will relent and that long-shuttered recording will be set free. And when that day arrives, I'll think fondly back to our evening discussing the ins and outs of musical collaboration over a steaming pile of Swedish meatballs.