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MUSIC REVIEW

FLUX alternates between new and old, successfully

March 24, 2004|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

True to its name -- a tribute to the antic Fluxus movement of the 1960s -- the FLUX Quartet leans way out on the edge of the string quartet repertoire.

Some of us first encountered this foursome at the 2000 Ojai Festival, where they served up an absolutely fearless, uncompromising program of new music, topped by a fascinating piece for quartet and audiotape by their founder/first violinist, Tom Chiu. For the latest Monday Evening Concert at LACMA's Bing Theater, the FLUX agenda was not quite so radical, with even an established 20th century classic by Gyorgy Ligeti in the mix, but it was still loaded with ear-challenging ideas.

Furthermore, there was an apparent concept behind the first half of the program, an illusion of several roads leading back to Ligeti's still marvelously unnerving String Quartet No. 2 from 1968. The first movement of Renaud Gagneux's String Quartet No. 1 was practically a mirror image of Ligeti's first movement -- with outbursts of vehement chaos spelled by passages of quiet, tense contemplation. Giacinto Scelsi's austere String Quartet No. 5, the last and shortest work in his quartet cycle, seemed to play upon the stunt-like aspects of other movements in the Ligeti quartet, grounding its entire six-minute content upon one idea.

All three quartets used repetition extensively, obsessively, and the FLUX played them with an elan and sense of flow that virtually erased the bar lines. The quartet's deep probing into the sustained angst of the Gagneux's second movement resulted in a spontaneous burst of applause in midwork, to which Chiu quipped, "Does this mean you didn't like the first movement?"

Though the FLUX earned its spurs among macho-minded avant-gardists for its performances of Morton Feldman's six-hour String Quartet II, the 7 1/2 minutes of Feldman's early "Structures" that came after the quartets were quite enough to enable listeners to absorb the arid atmosphere of his sound world.

The FLUX followed Feldman's quiet, sparse, repeating series of gestures with its polar opposite: John Zorn's grinding, squawking, madcap, impatiently jump-cutting collage of musical slapstick, "Cat O' Nine Tails."

This was cartoon music for the avant-garde, and the FLUX visibly relished every one of its pratfalls.

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