The global aesthetic of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider | Bleader

Monday, July 15, 2013

The global aesthetic of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider

Posted By on 07.15.13 at 05:20 PM

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Brooklyn Rider
  • Sarah Small
  • Brooklyn Rider
The New York string quartet Brooklyn Rider may not be the most daring or radical group using that instrumental format in contemporary classical music, but over the last few years they've steadfastly demonstrated that they're one of the most broad-minded, casting a wide net that makes space for a rich array of global traditions. Of course, as all four members—violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords, and cellist Eric Jacobsen—are charter members of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, which itself has devoted itself to interpreting and adapting the music of eastern Asia, that should hardly come as a surprise.

Still, Brooklyn Rider doesn't limit their repertoire to any one part of the world or a single era. They ably recorded the complete string quartets of Philip Glass a couple of years ago, and their 2012 album, Seven Steps (In a Circle), brought together Together Into This Unknowable Night by the young composer Christopher Tignor, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, and the group's own collectively composed response to that piece. Earlier this year the group's terrific imprint, In a Circle, released Recursions, a dazzling solo viola recital by Cords that rigorously merged works by Biber, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Hovhaness, Rubbra, and the lovely Five Migrations by Cords himself, along with an adaptation of the Irish fiddle tune "Pórt Na Bpúcaí." In his liner notes Cords thoughtfully explains how the pieces—drawn from a time period of four centuries—were drawn together here by their shared use of repetition, and indeed, his crystal clear renditions seem to erase any sense of temporal dislocation.

The centerpiece of Brooklyn Rider's superb new album, A Walking Fire (the group's debut for the Mercury Classics imprint), is Bela Bartok's String Quartet no. 2, one of the many works by the Hungarian composer that borrowed from eastern European folk traditions, but also one that borrows rhythms from music he heard on a trip to Nigeria in 1913. The work is preceded by Culai, a five-part suite by the Russian-American composer Lev "Ljova" Zhjurbin of Ljova and the Kontraband (which reportedly plays "chamber-jam music for the remix generation"—icky sounding, I know) that was inspired by the playing of Romani fiddler Nicolae Neacsu (Culai was his nickname) of Taraf de Haidouks, the brilliant string band from Clejani, Romania. The third part of the suite, "The Song," was written for the great Romani singer Romica Puceanu.

The album's closing work is Jacobsen's Three Miniatures for String Quartet, a work inspired by traditional Persian miniature painting as well as the brilliant Iranian kemenche player Kayhan Kalhor, with whom he's collaborated significantly in both Silk Road and Brooklyn Rider; the quartet's own record with Kalhor, Silent City (World Village), came out in 2008. All of A Walking Fire is gorgeous, from the harmonic turbulence of the Bartok to the manic energy of Ljova's work to the closing lyric splendor of Jacobsen's piece. On Tuesday the group makes its debut at the Ravinia festival, performing Jacobsen's Three Miniatures for String Quartet, the Bartok quartet, Mozart's String Quartet no. 15 in D Minor, "Budget Bulgar" from Ljova's Vjola Suite, and the midwest premiere of Jacobsen's Brooklesca.

Below you can hear all three movements of Three Miniatures for String Quartet.

Today's playlist:

Jessica Sligter, Fear and the Framing (Hubro)
El-P, Cancer4Cure (Fat Possum)
Charlie Haden & Hank Jones, Come Sunday (Decca)
Ahmad Jamal, Blue Moon (Jazz Village)
Marielle V. Jakobsons, Glass Canyon (Students of Decay)

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