Critic’s Pick: Kronos and Arditti String Quartets

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Music Critic

When the chamber music revival of the 1960s and early 1970s — a kind of classical music response to the folk music revival a few years earlier — had passed its peak, the string quartet as a medium was still strong. But the progressive musical world had moved on to electronics, the new Minimalism and radical experimentalism. The string quartet stood for stuffy, old-fashioned efforts.

No one could have imagined that two ensembles could change all that, renewing the repertory with well over a 1000 new pieces over the past four decades. By a special coincidence, UCLA’s Center for Performance Art will be celebrating the Kronos Quartet’s 40th anniversary at Royce Hall Friday and Saturday nights. Two days later the Monday Evening Concerts will celebrate the Arditti Quartet’s 40th anniversary at Zipper Concert Hall in the Colburn School.

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For a short while the Kronos, a quintessentially West Coast ensemble, and the quintessentially British Arditti might have seemed competitors. They both began by concentrating on Modernist 20th—century repertory, such as the quartet music of Berg and Schoenberg, Elliott Carter and John Cage.


But very soon the Brits went the way of high European Modernism and experimentalism and the Californians focused more on post-Modernism, Minimalism, world music, popular music and simply all-around musical avidity.

The two groups do still have areas of intersection, especially when it comes to experimentation. Arditti hasn’t ignored America, especially in its embracing of Carter and Cage and, most recently, John Zorn. The Kronos players are string quartet omnivores, they pick up music from absolutely everywhere — credit Kronos with, for instance, instigating an arresting African string quartet Renaissance.

But their styles are different in almost all ways, including dress (more conventional for the British, Californian casual for the home team), style of performance (ferociously focused for Arditti, highly theatrical for Kronos) and so on.

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The Kronos -- which will be appearing in Los Angeles for the first time with its new cellist, Sunny Yang, a recent USC graduate -- will show its immense spirit at Royce with a wildly eclectic lineup Friday that includes George Crumb’s classic antiwar “Black Angels” (the first piece Kronos ever played) and collaborations with the Chinese pipa player Wu Man (in a Philip Glass score) and a new piece by jazz/rock guitarist Nels Cline.

On Saturday, Kronos gives the Los Angeles premiere of Laurie Anderson’s latest work, “Landfall,” Kronos’ first collaboration with the performance artist, who will appear with the quartet in 70-minute piece.


Meanwhile at Zipper, the Arditti features Carter’s feistily fleeting late Fifth Quartet (No. 5), the consciousness-expanding British composer Jonathan Harvey’s Second Quartet, as well as quartets by a complexity-seeking Brit, Brian Ferneyhough, and the German master of toying with the edges of perception, Helmut Lachenmann.


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