The most eclectic--i.e., mixed-up--classical-music audience in town may be the crowd that gathers several times a season for visits by the Kronos Quartet of San Francisco. Yet, this audience is serious, hard-listening and tolerant, perhaps more so than some of our other local audiences. Saturday night in Schoenberg Hall at UCLA, for instance, it gave full attention and wholehearted responses to six disparate works from this century.
In peak form, the Kronos--violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud--built their reordered agenda around the local premiere of Kevin Volans' new "Hunting: Gathering" and a revival of Wolfgang Rihm's Quartet No. 3.
In these major expressions, and in shorter items by Ben Johnston, Henry Cowell, John Coltrane and Charles Ives, the quartet lavished strong contrasts, articulated details and abundant affection. As its critics--including this one--keep reminding, not everything the Kronos plays is first-class; more to the point of bringing new and interesting works to its listeners, everything it plays sounds important.
Rihm's atonal, grim, cogent, earnest and sober Third Quartet held the listener through a fiery and probing reading. Volans' lean and meditative work (its world premiere was given just 24 hours earlier) was treated similarly, with a burning intensity and virtuosic ease. It is a work which further hearings may bring into better focus; one was particularly fascinated with the ostensibly rambling second movement, which seems like a hoedown filtered through a fervid musical imagination.