Kevin Volans (1949, South African)

To me, the music of Kevin Volans is “Classical meets World- and Dance-Music” at its best, because the sources are metabolized in a fully contemporary language, that remains however (to my ears) very accessible and enrapturing. Volans burst onto the public scene with the arrangement for string quartet, made at the behest of the Kronos Quartet, of his piece “White Man Sleeps”, originally written for two harpsichords, viola da gamba and percussion. That was his first String Quartet, and he’s added at least five more since that I’ve heard, showcasing his evolution from the dance-like repetitiveness of the begining towards the bare Cagean minimalism of the 6th Quartet. I’ve got to confess that I find the later quartets less taking than the first ones… But it is with his piano pieces “Cicada” and “Duets” that Volans’ minimalism tends to such a degree of nothingness that he loses me.

I’ve listened to and reviewed as many Volans CDs as I could put my hands on.


Cicada for two pianos (by Mathilda Hornveld & Jill Richards and Duets for multiple pianos and tape (by Kevin Volans & Matteo Fargion) on Black Box BBM1029 (2000)

Dances 1 & 5 from “White Man Sleeps” (String Quartet No. 1)  by the Kronos Quartet on their CD “White Man Sleeps” on Elektra Nonesuch 9 79163-2 (US edition), 979 163-2 (European edition?) or 7559-79163-2 (French edition) (1987)

“White Man Sleeps” (String Quartet No. 1) by The Kronos Quartet in their program “Pieces of Africa” on Elektra-Nonesuch 9 7925-2 (US edition) or 7559-79275-2 (French edition) (1992)

Dance 1 from “White Man Sleeps” (String Quartet No. 1) by the Smith Quartet in their CD “Dance” on Signum Classics SIGCD236 (2011)

“White Man Sleeps” (string quartet version by The Smith Quartet and original version for two harpsichords, viola da gamba and percussion played by Kevin Volans & Robert Hill, Margriet Tindemans and Robyn Schulkowsky), “Mbira” for two harpsichords and rattles and “She Who Sleeps with a Small Blanket” for percussion, on Cala-United CACD88034 (1994)

“Hunting: gathering” (String Quartet No. 2) by the Kronos Quartet on Elektra Nonesuch 9 79253-2 (1991)

String Quartet No. 2 “Hunting: gathering” & String Quartet No. 3 “The Songlines” by the Balanescu Quartet on Argo 440 687-2 (1994)

“White Man Sleeps” (String Quartet No. 1), “Hunting: gathering” (String Quartet No. 2) and String Quartet No. 6 by The Duke Quartet on Black Box BBM1069 (2002)

Strings Quartets Nos. 4 “The Ramanujan Notebooks” & 5 “Dancers on a Plane”, ‘Movement’ for String Quartet, by The Duke Quartet on Collins Classics 14172 (1995)

Concerto for piano and wind instruments, This is How it is, Leaping Dance, Walking Song, Untitled by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Peter Donohoe (piano), dir. Daniel Harding (in Piano Concerto), Kevin Volans (piano, in Untitled), dir. Wim Steinmann on Chandos CHAN 9563 (1997)

Trio Concerto, Symphony: Daar kom die Alibama, Concerto for piano and winds. RTE National Symphony Orchestra, Gavin Maloney and Alan Buribayev, RTE Lyric fm CD147 (2014)

For more on Volans, see his website.


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