Blame the earthquake for a sparse turnout at the Newport Harbor Art Museum on Saturday night. Those few without fear of aftershocks were rewarded with string playing of a high order from members of the Southwest Chamber Music Society.
The ambitious and adventurous program provided tremors of a musical sort in Wuorinen's String Quartet No. 3 (1987). This knotty yet cohesive work may well daunt those accustomed to a modern diet of saccharine minimalism. It may have daunted the players a bit too, from the look of it: Erstwhile horn player Jeff von der Schmidt essayed the role of conductor.
But from the sound of it, violinists Jacqueline Brand and Kimiyo Takeya, violist Jan Karlin and cellist Richard Treat played with far more confidence with Schmidt directing.
Having received its Los Angeles premiere Friday night in a Pasadena performance by the same forces, the single-movement work makes demands on the listener nearly as great as on the players. Based on a Gregorian chant, the non-programatic work moves quickly from a fireball opening to a passage where the notes of the chant are compressed into a cluster.