New season, new clothes. Opening another UCLA concert year, as they did last season, the four members of the Kronos Quartet came on stage at Schoenberg Hall Auditorium on Friday night wearing new outfits.
Outfits is the right word, because David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and Joan Jeanrenaud wear four different costumes. The style is mock-Russian--what would be worn by former Cossacks now waiting table at the Russian Tea Room--the colors burnished, the look comfortable.
Less colorful, though full of promise, was the Kronos program, which consisted of two revivals and three recent works. Peter Phillips' "Survivors" (1984), a piece for amplified string quartet and percussion, received a local premiere at this concert and should have proved the climax to the occasion.
It did not, the fault being the composer's: With the celebrated Max Roach--an icon in the world of jazz, as well as a composer--manning the drums, "Survivors" turned out to be loud, aggressive and repetitive, and relentlessly so. Worse, its use of Roach, who is reported to have assisted the composer in the writing, is monochromatic; the percussion part might be played by any competent drummer.
Mel Graves' "Pangaea" (1983/86) holds the listener with greater contrasts and more characterful writing. Offering members of the quartet opportunities to leave their regular chairs and perform briefly on exotic percussion instruments, this work explores string/percussion dialogues at several dynamic levels, as "Survivors" did not. "Pangaea," in 17 engaging minutes, actually deals in aural evocation of ethnic sounds, and successfully.
David Sheinfeld's String Quartet (1978) deals in anger, anxiety and an unstated subtext. Its atonal style is unrelieved but strangely inarticulate; the listener recognizes feelings of irony and bitterness in its statements, without relating to them. The work occupies a tortured quarter-hour, one more punishing than cathartic.
Revivals of Alban Berg's Quartet, Opus 3, and Aaron Copland's recently unearthed Movement for String Quartet (1924) became beacons in this program. Both works were given the same careful treatment, probing interest and polished detailing that the ensemble lavished on the newer items on its program. Schoenberg Auditorium should have been packed to overflowing, but was not.