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Kronos Quartet

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More than two decades ago these Bay Area trailblazers started out putting a much-needed contemporary spin on the hallowed performing tradition of the string quartet. Never mind that they've yet to become compelling interpreters of the classical canon: as hip champions of the new they're uncannily skillful in appealing to baby boomers and Generation Xers, a demographic now coveted by concert presenters. A list of the venues they've played on their increasingly frequent visits here--Park West, Ravinia, and finally Orchestra Hall under the sponsorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra--demonstrates how warmly the establishment has embraced these former avant-gardists. Their latest program smacks of condescension and commercial instincts--a calculatingly safe sampler of past hits written for them by composers certified, partly by Kronos's endorsement, as today's masters of crossover experimentalism. Included are John Zorn's playful pop-culture paean Cat o' Nine Tails (1988), Philip Glass's familiarly minimalist screed Quartet no. 5 (1991), and John Oswald's sound assemblage Mach--all commissions previously presented by the Kronos. Worthy of renewed acquaintance, however, is Mugam Sayagi (1993) by Azerbaijani-born Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, in which a meditative cello, after veiling its emotions for a long period, shares epiphanies with its string cohorts only to return to its lonely prayer. The only brand-new work is John's Book of Alleged Dances, a tongue-in-cheek homage to John Cage and his prepared-piano technique by fashionable west-coast minimalist John Adams. One of its segments, "Hammer & Chisel," depicts a heated political argument between two friends of Adams in the People's Republic of Berkeley, exemplifying the Kronos's aesthetics of irreverence and relevance. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Christine Alicino.

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