The Flux Quartet: Don't expect more 'dead' chamber music

by Christopher Q. McMullen-Laird | 1/18/02 6:00am

You don't need to get dressed up. As a matter of fact, be ready for the kind of jam session that nobody would expect from a Juilliard-based quartet. You might hear fiddling, you might hear cartoon music, you might even close your eyes and hear music that sounds like a soundtrack. The only thing you know is that the members of the Flux Quartet will be up on stage playing their hearts out.

What Flux does so well may have to do with its classical training, but also includes several very modern musical ideas: that the performer can be directly involved in the creative process as much as the composer, that music can assault the senses and offend tradition (much as movies do) and that a performance is more entertaining if it is new and different.

Flux combines these elements into an imaginative and often humorous performance. Expect sounds you've heard in Disney movies mixed with motives from pop songs or bird calls in the background of a folk tune. And it could all be mixed up too, as it is in Zorn's "Cat O' Nine Tales," the closing piece on the program, where the listener is catapulted from one snapshot to another, like channel surfing.

It's not a traditional string quartet, nor do its members seek to make it one. They have an unparalleled attitude about "dead" compositions unlike any other group of conservatory graduates.

They openly acknowledge the central place Haydn and Mozart occupy in quartet literature and they gladly leave those works to "musical archaeologists." It would be torture to hear them play 18th-century literature, because their passion and virtuosity lies in the present day.

Flux loves working with living composers, even adding to the compositions themselves. Two numbers on the program are Hopkins Center-commissioned works and tonight's performance marks their world premiere. As for the other composers, they don't have a date of death either.

New music often has a bad name because many players perform it like it's a couple centuries old anyway -- but not Flux. You know that these guys are young when you see the hair shaking, the bows bouncing around with Julliard technique and rock 'n' roll gusto. It's an unusual merge of virtuosity and inventiveness.

And their playing is full of surprises: they have passages that call for a "Bartok sound," or simply bear the musical indication "go crazy."

You won't be bored, that's for sure. And they want you to come for the entertainment, whether you laugh or scream or cry.

It's fine to hate what they do, it's fine to boo at the end of the show and let everyone know your disapproval -- the main thing is that you have an engaging experience. And if you come to "get cultured," you'll be surprised at how much fun that can be -- even in jeans and sneakers.