It takes only a glance at a Kronos Quartet publicity photograph to get the classical music lover’s ire up. Perish the thought that these musicians be pictured with their instruments. No, the three men—David Harrington and John Sherba, violins, and Hank Dutt, viola—prefer to be captured in the regalia of hats, sunglasses, and what looks to be (in at least one case) eye makeup. The lady, Joan Jeanrenaud, displays her legs rather than her cello; combined with a cultivated pout, her pose suggests that post-pubescent impudence inimical to any deeper ambition than success at the school dance. Each member of this fashionable string ensemble seems a paradigm of commercial image-making in the punk mode, a self-conscious, self-absorbed poseur of the kind that can only ridicule the aspirations of the spirit.

What sort of music might such an ensemble play? The answer is not as obvious as one might think, since the...

 
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