More than two decades ago these Bay Area trailblazers started out putting a much-needed contemporary spin on the hallowed performing tradition of the string quartet. Never mind that they’ve yet to become compelling interpreters of the classical canon: as hip champions of the new they’re uncannily skillful in appealing to baby boomers and Generation Xers, a demographic now coveted by concert presenters. A list of the venues they’ve played on their increasingly frequent visits here–Park West, Ravinia, and finally Orchestra Hall under the sponsorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra–demonstrates how warmly the establishment has embraced these former avant-gardists. Their latest program smacks of condescension and commercial instincts–a calculatingly safe sampler of past hits written for them by composers certified, partly by Kronos’s endorsement, as today’s masters of crossover experimentalism. Included are John Zorn’s playful pop-culture paean Cat o’ Nine Tails (1988), Philip Glass’s familiarly minimalist screed Quartet no. 5 (1991), and John Oswald’s sound assemblage Mach–all commissions previously presented by the Kronos. Worthy of renewed acquaintance, however, is Mugam Sayagi (1993) by Azerbaijani-born Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, in which a meditative cello, after veiling its emotions for a long period, shares epiphanies with its string cohorts only to return to its lonely prayer. The only brand-new work is John’s Book of Alleged Dances, a tongue-in-cheek homage to John Cage and his prepared-piano technique by fashionable west-coast minimalist John Adams. One of its segments, “Hammer & Chisel,” depicts a heated political argument between two friends of Adams in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, exemplifying the Kronos’s aesthetics of irreverence and relevance. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Christine Alicino.