Along with the Arditti String Quartet, no other group has championed as much new and interesting music as the Kronos Quartet (Tues Feb 2, Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave, 7:30 pm, $50).
Some pieces and projects in their repertoire make me cringe (Terry Riley's Sun Rings, just about anything tango-influenced, and their take on Webern), but others I love (Riley's Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector and Salome Dances for Peace) or find revelatory and cherish (quartets by Philip Glass, Alfred Schnittke, and Istvan Marta's Doom. A Sigh). Here, Kronos concocts a program that includes Riley's "Good Medicine" from Salome Dances, a tango- flavored song arranged by Osvaldo Golijov, and selections from The Dead Man by the avant-jazz lodestar John Zorn.
Closer to town, Wayne Horvitz reprises These Hills of Glory for string quartet and improviser, this time with clarinetist Beth Fleenor (Sun Jan 31, Rendezvous, 7:30 pm, $5–$15 sliding scale). While most improvisation in string quartet playing remains ghostly and hidden at the microsonic level of vibrato along with other lambent adjustments in pitch, rhythm, and tone color, Horvitz's Hills offers additional magnification. The improviser solos, comments, and gently augments the group in music that embodies contented solitude.
For traditional chamber music, I recommend the Seattle Chamber Music Society's Winter Festival (Thurs–Sun Jan 28–31, Benaroya Hall, various times, $44–$168/$10 for under 25). The SCMS continues its tradition of mixing big hits like Schubert's "Trout" Quintet with overlooked gems, notably three trios for violin, cello, and piano by Robert Schumann. And though Schumann's symphonies remain duller than dishwater, his first two trios—the D Minor op. 63 and the Trio in F Major, op. 80—not only breathe, but dance with flowery, even frolicsome tunes.
I'm not keen on Schumann's late, kinda lame G Minor trio op. 110 that concludes the festival; however, that afternoon features the Dohnányi Sextet op. 87 and two new works by SCMS musicians, Adam Neiman's Two Elegies for Clarinet and Piano and Sean Osborn's Sonata for E-flat Clarinet and Piano as recompense. There's also a recital devoted to music for two pianos (Sat Jan 30) by Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich; I would have swapped the Rachmaninoff for Morton Feldman's Two Pianos (1957). See www.seattlechamber music.org/concerts for a full schedule.
Finally, I'm intrigued by singer Whitney James (Thurs Jan 28, Tula's, 7:30 pm, $15), who celebrates her new disc, The Nature of Love (Damselfly/Stir Stick), with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, Jon Wikan on drums, pianist Joshua Wolff, and Seattle stalwart bassist Geoff Harper. I like her cool, savory voice, which, instead of soaring, stays sumptuous at lower, almost huskier altitudes.