Audacious, informal, and energetic, Brooklyn Rider performs music that is not only cross-cultural but also cross-genre. The string quartet is named after the city in which it is based – quite fitting, considering the fact that Brooklyn is most famous for its vibrant multicultural background. On Monday, February 16th, the quartet gave a relaxed concert in FUEL, a trendy lounge in the basement of the Collis Center. Performing pieces that range from Franz Schubert and Philip Glass to Mexican rock and gypsy folk music, Brooklyn Rider seems to value pure musical enjoyment over technical prowess.
That night in FUEL, the quartet played seven extremely diverse pieces that were (paradoxically) united by a theme of cross-culturalism. After all the pieces had been performed, I was confused by the strange amalgam, but astounded by the sheer energy that the musicians had channeled. I was also amazed by the ease with which the musicians were able to shift from piece to piece (genre to genre, culture to culture, etc.) so seamlessly, as if no transition were taking place at all. After the concert, Johnny Gandelsman, the first violinist, was sure to explain the incongruousness of the repertoire that we had just heard. “This music,” he told us, “is so diverse, but [it] has no boundaries.” Only then was it apparent that the pieces were united by the diversity itself. Switching from traditional Japanese flute music to a jazzy blues melody was just as easy as walking from the Irish side of the street to the Jewish side of the street in Brooklyn, New York. The transitions were not meant to be jarring, but liberating.
The first piece of the night was called “Brooklesca,” which – judging from a quick glance at Brooklyn Rider’s website – is one of their most popular pieces. The piece, written by second violinist Colin Jacobsen, is a fast and vigorous adventure that combines gypsy themes, Spanish motifs, and American “hillbilly” fiddle, all in a vaguely classical milieu. Although that may sound confusing, the piece came together as a heart-pounding masterpiece, much of which was improvised. During one of Gandelsman’s improvised solos, the cellist (Eric Jacobsen) even cracked a giggle! I also noticed that Gandelsman held his bow about four inches above the frog, allowing for greater versatility while sacrificing power. Unfortunately, this technique seemed to produce a couple of missed notes and some faulty intonation during some parts of the concert. The second piece was Philip Glass’s Company. Despite its repetitiveness, the musicians made it remarkably dynamic and gave it direction without taking too much artistic freedom. The next piece was a somber theme in variations by Schubert, which completely changed the mood; however, the musicians seemed disconnected. The intense connection that existed in some of the other pieces was severed during the Schubert, perhaps because there was less room for improvisation and embellishment. Next, the quartet played La Muerte Chiquita, a tune made popular by a Mexican rock band. Full of glissandos, heavy pizzicatos, and percussive tapping, the piece had a spirited attitude. The fifth piece was a collaboration with shakuhachi player, Kojiro Umezaki. Despite my initial disbelief, the string instruments blended perfectly with the traditional Japanese flute, mostly through call-and-response imitation. Even though Umezaki frequently improvised and made great use of microtones (in between the notes of the normal tonal scale) the string players were able to copy him flawlessly. The concert ended with a piece written by Gandelsman’s cousin, called Cross Town, a mimetic representation of a bus ride through Brooklyn, plagued by traffic and constant honking. As expected, the piece was comedically excruciating and playfully discordant, full of false starts and random changes in tempo. The piece was folksy and lyrical, and included Umezaki at one point as well.
While Brooklyn Rider may not always be as technically proficient as other string quartets, it is certainly more playful and diverse. By constantly experimenting with their instruments and playing music from all around the world, the quartet embodies the cross-culturalism of Brooklyn with avant-garde flair.Tags: album, baroque, best classical music, brooklesca, brooklyn, brooklyn rider, cd, classical, classical music, classical music cds, classical music composer, classical music Mozart, classical music online, classical piano music, colin jacobsen, collis, collis fuel, composers, concert, eric jacobsen, Events, General, glass, instrument, johnny gandelsman, kojiro umezaki, met opera, metropolitan opera, music, opera, opera house, opera singers, Performers, philip glass, piano, reviews, schubert, shakuhachi, World Music