The Kronos Quartet’s trademark eclecticism was on display Friday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. That was no surprise, but it was unusual to encounter an entire program of female composers. They ranged from New Yorkers Missy Mazzoli and Laurie Anderson to Franghiz Ali-Zadeh from Azerbaijan, the Canadian Nicole Lizee and Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, whose clarinet quintet “Babylon, Our Own” received its world premiere with an expressive performance by clarinetist David Krakauer.
“Babylon,” a Clarice Smith commission, is a searing 35-minute work, which Vrebalov says unfolds “like a ritual, carrying one through a vast range of memories and visions.” Some of those memories must be painfully dark, given the intensity of Krakauer’s mournful cries. The clarinet stammered with bursts of staccato notes, as if desperate to spit out a grief-ridden story. Yet there were lighter moments, too — a fractured waltz, episodes of sweet Klezmer music and flashes of Shostakovich-like sarcasm.
Deceptive visions also lurked in Ali-Zadeh’s “Oasis.” Arid pizzicatos, windswept harmonics and dreams of dripping water conjured up a desert and its maddening mirage — depicted in a sinuous theme in Jeffery Zeigler’s cello.
More phantoms appeared in Lizee’s kitschy “Death to Kosmische.” Kronos players occasionally traded their strings for anachronistic musical gadgets such as the Stylophone and Omnichord. The piece could double as a 1950s sci-fi movie soundtrack, with its fuzzed string tones and electronic bleeps.
An arrangement of Anderson’s miniature “Flow,” with its patina of electronics, floated in like a prayer. And Mazzoli’s “Harp and Altar,” her paean to the Brooklyn Bridge, featured breathy electronics and tape of Gabriel Kahane singing excerpts from the Hart Crane poem of the same name.