The string quartet has been getting cool for some time now—Turtle Island, Kronos, Eroica, Daniel Bernard Roumain's SQ Unit and so on.
Right now, there's an outburst of fresh sounds from groups like Brooklyn Rider, whose four members play three Triangle venues this week. They are touring in support of their new album, Dominant Curve, but all of this week's concerts boast different programs, each including works from past Brooklyn Rider recordings. String quartets have long introduced new music; Brooklyn Rider is a bold extension of that history.
Brooklyn Rider takes its name firstly from its home, that great stew of cultures across the river from the towers of Manhattan. The "Rider" portion pays homage to Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an influential and innovative group of radical German artists and musicians early in the 20th century. Brooklyn Rider also admires the artistic fervent of the French composer Claude Debussy and his wide circle of creative friends in Paris. They continually work with visual artists on expansive multimedia projects—even including their website.
This week's concerts are part of September Prelude, a long-running collaboration among the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, the UNC-CH Department of Music and Duke Performances/ Chamber Arts Society of Durham. Each year, the series presents a vital chamber group and offers a master class as a kickoff to the concert season. This year's September Prelude is especially interesting because Brooklyn Rider embodies multicultural inclusivity, without any of the posturing or argumentative tone of earlier years. In the last year, the group has played venues as diverse and prestigious as the Library of Congress and South by Southwest. Essentially, this is the sort of group we spent 30 or 40 years of culture wars to win.
They are fabulously trained in the European repertory, but that is just the beginning. These new musical omnivores don't do "world music" on the side, as an exotic other to their bread and butter. If any instrument has strings, it can play with their string quartet. They've often toured with Persian virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, which resulted in the powerful album Silent City. When they aren't playing with him, or simply as themselves, they often accompany Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble. Somehow, they also find time to be part of The Knights, a chamber orchestra co-founded by Brooklyn Rider brothers Colin (violin, composition) and Eric (cello) Jacobsen.
Beyond its energy and vivid technique, Brooklyn Rider also excites with the curiosity and exploratory fervor it lavishes not only on new music but on older pioneering music as well. The new album, like the concert in UNC-CH's Memorial Hall, includes the wonderful Debussy String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10. In the same evening, we will also hear a new work by Colin Jacobsen.
At the Duke Performances/ Chamber Arts Society concert, we will hear Schubert's heart-rending "Death and the Maiden" in the second half, Philip Glass' String Quartet no. 2 ("Company") and Jacobsen's "Achilles' Heel." And at Raleigh's Fletcher Opera Theater, the program includes some Armenian folk songs, more Jacobsen and Brooklyn Rider's interpretation of Dvorak's muscular "American Quartet." The 3 p.m. concert is preceded by a talk and a presentation by Mallarmé Youth Chamber Orchestra—the new players of the new music to come.