At the end of last night's concert, while the seismic rumbles of applause were still slowly fading, first violinist David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet nodded his improbably red head at the audience and made a statement of principle: "One thing we want to make sure before the 20th century is over is that Jimi Hendrix gets played at the Kennedy Center."
And so it was that the last notes of the Kronos' two-night stand in the Terrace Theater were those of "Purple Haze," played by two violins, a viola and a cello (the most chaste of musical ensembles) in a performance at least as funky as you could get from guitars and synthesizers. The ensemble's looks (rather like a punk rock group) and the way the stage lights change color to match the mood of each selection contribute something to the effect. But what matters more than the Kronos mystique is the kind of music they play and their excellent style and technique.
The Jimi Hendrix experience expanded still further a repertoire that had already seemed to encompass nearly anything you could call music: from "Rock Around the Clock" (part of a Saturday night encore) to Alban Berg's rigorously dodecaphonic "Lyric Suite," played with hectic brilliance and tragic intensity.
In two evenings at the Terrace, the Kronos showed how many different flavors it has to offer: mainstream classics, such as the "Lyric Suite" and the anguished meditations and hectic celebrations of Alfred Schnittke's String Quartet No. 3; music with third-world styles and techniques such as Jon Hassell's "Pano da Costa," Ge Gan-Ru's "Dao" and Kevin Volans' "White Man Sleeps"; progressive jazz with " 'Round Midnight"; and post-avant-garde styles with Arvo Pa rt's "Fratres," Terry Riley's "Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector," Astor Piazzolla's "For, four Tango" and a movement of "Mishima" by Philip Glass, played as an encore last night.
One item that was listed on the program and eagerly awaited did not materialize: "Corona" by Cecil Taylor is still being composed somewhere in Brooklyn, Harrington announced. Instead, the group played a quartet, composed by Frank Proto somewhere in Cincinnati, that was full of striking new ideas, violent gestures, sharp contrasts and intricate, abrupt rhythms. At some moments the players shouted unintelligibly, clapped their hands, or chanted wordlessly, and Joan Jeanrenaud spent a lot of time hammering on her cello with what looked like a pencil.
One of the cello strings broke later, during the Hassell number, and Jeanrenaud had to leave the stage briefly. Proto may be partly responsible for this delay, but if so the experience was worth the inconvenience. We may hope to hear Taylor's work later (the Kronos will be returning to Washington fairly often), but meanwhile Proto, in a dazzling performance, was a fair substitute.