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Music Review : Kronos Quartet Essays Eight New Works

November 19, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN

The Kronos Quartet just doesn't ever seem to run out of gas.

In a kind of musical housecleaning in Schoenberg Hall at UCLA Thursday night, the group, now 21 years old, turned up small treasure after small treasure, presenting eight new works, seven written especially for the ensemble.

These musicians--David Harrington and John Sherba, violins, Hank Dutt, viola, and Jean Jeanrenaud, cello--showed their usual commitment and precision, but it is their ease of playing that allows one to concentrate solely on the music. They get out of the way, in the best sense.

A number of works incorporated taped sounds on this occasion. Ingram Marshall's "Fog Tropes II" mixes sweet, gentle string music in a misty, distant collage of fog horns, wind, voices and Balinese instruments, a kind of "La Mer," George Crumb-style. Similarly, Peter Sculthorpe's "From Ubirr" uses a throbbing stream of didgeridoo music to create a rich, sonorous backdrop for harmonious and folksy string parts. Not afraid to make pleasant sounds, these two composers.

Romanian Ana-Maria Avram isn't afraid to make ugly ones in her "Ikarus II," a fairly typical work experimenting with new playing techniques perhaps, but performed with such aplomb that its grindings, thwackings, growlings and rattlings became fascinating.

Michael Daugherty's "Elvis Everywhere" proved a wonderfully hammy medley for (taped) Elvis impersonators and string quartet, using "thank you very much" as a kind of mantra and quoting "Dixie" and "O Sole Mio," among others--dizzy with energy. A very different evocation, Elliott Carter's 1994 "Fragment," written entirely in harmonics, briefly shimmers in the air, in an evaporating remembrance of a friend.

Music by Ken Benshoof, Hirokazu Hiraishi and Osvaldo Golijov further reminded us of this quartet's wide interests and sure instincts. Model lighting and amplification, subtle and unobtrusive, added yet another entrancing element.

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