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Release: Immediate

Still confounding expectations, Kronos performs early music Jan. 24 at UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Kronos Quartet earned its iconoclastic reputation, and its perennial place atop the Billboard charts, by breaking all the conventions of European chamber music -- playing string-quartet arrangements of pop music and jazz, performing with theatrical lighting and sets, dressing like rock musicians, and tapping musical traditions from Africa, Native America and other cultures unrelated to the classical string-quartet tradition. "Expect the unexpected" became the by-word of Kronos performances.

When Kronos returns to the University of Iowa for a concert 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, in Hancher Auditorium, the site of many of the group's cutting-edge premieres, the quartet will confound even its own reputation. Mirroring the programming on its latest hit CD, "Early Music (Lachrymae Antiquae)," Kronos will mix music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with the sounds of contemporary composers who have been influenced by the sound, style or spirituality of early music. The concert is part of the Iowa City Press-Citizen Millennium Series.

On the first half of the concert, music hundreds of years old by composers including Guillaume de Machaut, Perotin, Purcell, Hildegard von Bingen and the ninth-century Byzantine composer Kassia will alternate, without a break, with 20th-century compositions by artists including Arvo Part, Harry Partch, John Cage and Alfred Schnittke.

When Kronos performed this format in Los Angeles last winter, L.A. Times critic Mark Swed concluded that all the music became connected and timeless: "This is music that has little in common in sound, intent, geography or history. Yet there was no confusion. One piece didn't jostle another. Somehow it all made sense; the ear didn't need to know or connect the composer, the year, the country or the century of the music."

After intermission, Kronos will perform a commissioned work by Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz, "Altar de Muertos," which was recently given its world premiere to rave reviews and cheering crowds in Guanajuato, Mexico.

"Altar de Muertos" explores the ritual and meaning of death in Mexico today, with music inspired by the pre-Hispanic culture that thrived in Mexico for thousands of years before the Spanish conquest.

Ortiz says the work is filled with both spiritual and cultural meaning. "It is an exploration seeking the roots of the conception of death in Mexico from past to the present," she explains. "Its ideas reflect the internal search between the real and the magic, always present in Mexican culture. . . To talk about death in Mexico is to refer to something we live with at every moment of our existence. Death is present everywhere; we are fascinated by death."

Ortiz was born in Mexico City in 1964 and was trained in Mexico and England, where she completed a Ph.D. at the City University of London. Her compositions have been broadcast by the BBC, the National Radio of Spain, Swedish Radio and Mexican Radio and Television. In 1994 she wrote the score for the award-winning film "Frontierland."

More than any other ensemble, the Kronos Quartet -- violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud -- has shaped the contemporary redefinition of the string quartet. Since its inception in 1973, the quartet has become a leading advocate of new work, producing a body of work unparalleled in the range and scope of its expression.

Kronos has sought out and commissioned the most innovative composers from around the world, representing countries as diverse as Zimbabwe, Poland, China, Argentina, Australia and Azerbaijan.

The Kronos discography of more than 25 CDs has attracted numerous awards and nominations, including multiple Grammy Award nominations. The "Pieces of Africa" recording, which had its genesis in a Hancher concert, became the first recording in history to simultaneously hold the top spot on the classical and world music charts.

Hancher has been an important venue and supporter for Kronos' work, including commissions and world premieres of numerous compositions and theatrical presentations. Hancher has been the site of Kronos world and American premieres of works by composers including LaMonte Young, Scott Johnson, P.Q. Phan, Brent Michael Davids, Ben Johnston, Christian Marclay, Dumisani Maraire, Tan Dun and George Crumb.

Tickets for the Jan. 24 concert of the Kronos Quartet are $27.50, $24.50 and $21.50. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, with Zone 3 tickets available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience member 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen is the major corporate sponsor of the Millennium Series through the University of Iowa Foundation.