Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Attacca Quartet Play a Seriously Fun Caroline Shaw Program at National Sawdust

Considering that string players ought to be ideally suited to writing string quartets, Caroline Shaw is not only a capable violinist but also a strong singer with a background in choral music. So the cantabile quality and sheer catchiness of her string quartets were hardly a surprise when the Attacca Quartet played a grand total of five of them at National Sawdust Sunday evening.

Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize for a piece whose ambition trumped content. The works on this bill made for a far more accurate and rapturously entertaining survey. The Attaccas chose well in championing her, and she deserves champions as committed to and capable of tackling her often dauntingly challenging if reliably tuneful and ever-growing repertoire.

The influence of Bach shone clearly throughout several of these pieces, but through the prism of Philip Glass, in terms of elegantly circling, hypnotic, subtly shifting motives and arpeggios. Distant echoes of late Beethoven and a “nested Bach cantata,” as Shaw grinningly put it, were present. There were also flickers of composers as diverse as Kaija Saariaho and Per Norgard, particularly during the music’s most shimmery, atmospheric moments, most of them a setup for Shaw’s next surprise. None of these pieces followed the traditional four-part mold. The most expansive was Plan & Elevation, an uninterrupted, seven-part suite inspired by the greenery at Dunbarton Hall, a Washington, DC area landmark. The shortest and most overtly triumphant was Valencia, the concluding number, its lithe, loosely tethered, balletesque flourishes celebrating the virtues of a particularly juicy orange, bursting with flavors both sweet and acidic.

Shaw writes very generously for string quartet. Second violinist Keiko Tokunaga got plenty of time in the spotlight, as did first violinist Amy Schroeder and violist Nathan Schram, as Shaw’s kinetic phrasing lept from voice to voice. She makes maximum use of a cello’s most stygian resonances, delivered exuberantly by cellist Andrew Yee. The opening work, Entr’acte, featured all sorts of hushed, muted harmonics, microtones and the occasional devious glisssando. Each member of the quartet seemed pushed, if quietly, to the limits of their extended technique with volley after volley of pizzicato, in addition to gentle doppler or siren effects.

One number explored a Roland Barthes concept about the perception of a particular tone. Punctum, the next-to-last piece, Shaw averred, means both “point” in Latin and also the opening of a tear duct: it turned out to be more of a pensive pavane than a cavatina. The sold-out audience was drawn in raptly and finally exploded in applause: nobody knew when the concert was going to end since there was no program printed or online, at least at the venue’s page. It’s hard to think of an ongoing string quartet cycle that’s going to be more fun to keep in touch with than this one.

The Attacca Quartet’s next New York concert is on January 20 at 7:30 PM featuring Beethoven’s String Quartet No 10, Op 74, “Harp” in E-flat Major, and String Quartet No 9, Op 59 No 3 in C Major, plus Michael Ippolito’s Big Sky, Low Horizon, at Church of the Holy Trinity, 3 W. 65th St.

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December 13, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Momenta Quartet Illuminate Per Norgard’s Haunting, Pensive String Works

Per Norgard is iconic in his native Denmark, and deserves a global audience. The lucky crowd at Victor Borge Hall at Scandinavia House on Park Avenue Friday night got to witness the Momenta Quartet turn in a purposefully flickering, often sepulchral, genuinely transcendent performance of string quartets, a suite of miniatures and a chilling violin/cello duet.

Norgard’s music is minimalist in the sense that everything counts for something, and that his melodies tend to be spare and follow a careful, meticulous path. But there’s a great deal going on, much of it rhythmic: constantly shifting meters, persistent wave motion and all sorts of oceanic and water imagery, unsurprising for someone from an archipelago nation. An unease on the brink of terror often lurks in the background, or in the distance. On the rare occasion that it takes centerstage – as in the coda of the duo suite Tjampuan, inspired by Balinese mysticism and waterways and performed with a hushed intensity by violinist Alex Shiozaki and cellist Michael Haas – the result can be spine-tingling, whichever way you want to imagine that.

There’s also a mathematical precision that sometimes brings to mind Steve Reich, but with vastly less playfulness and more foreboding. The awestruck terror of Messiaen’s most dramatic works also figures into the picture, if from a somewhat greater distance, as it did during the surreallistic time-warp of Norgard’s String Quartet No. 10. A contrast between calm if not exactly cheery harvest imagery, seemingly loaded with subtext, and a contemplation of time out of mind, it offered violist Stephanie Griffin a rare opportunity – at this concert at least – to vent, if only guardedly. There was no lack of cruel irony in how vexing such a concept can be to mere mortals, and Norgard seized on that.

His String Quartet No.3 – Three Miniatures, dating from 1959, juxtaposed brief, swinging, occasionally carnivalesque allusions with a dirge theme. Likewise, Playground, the suite of brief, flitting pieces, brought to mind a more mathematical, modernist take on Bartok’s Mikrokosmos etudes. The Quartet got to bring the most dynamism to the String Quartet No. 8- Night Descending Like Smoke, a World War I-themed piece based on a Norgard chamber opera, offering an offhandedly savage look at karmic payback to warmongers and their sympathizers. It’s characteristic of the relevance of Norgard’s repertoire, which really ought to be performed with this kind of meticulous attention far more often in this city.

One such performance to look forward to will be on July 29 at 8 PM when pianist Jacob Rhodebeck plays Norgard works at Mise-En Place, 678 Hart. St. in Bushwick. The other is by the Momenta Quartet June 23, with a delicious homemade vegetarian dinner at 6, show at 8 featuring Norgard’s String Quartet No. 3, Henri Dutilleux’s Ainsi La Nuit and Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 135 on the fourth floor of 67 Metropolitan Ave. (Wythe/Kent) in Williamsburg. Sugg. don. is $20, BYOB, sharable food/drink are highly encouraged!

June 20, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Handful of Exciting Modern String Quartets

For fans of the string quartet repertoire, the new Quadrants modern string quartet collection is heaven. With four ensembles playing five composers, all but one of them living, it’s an example of some of the most compelling recent composition and playing by a mix of inspired pickup groups and underrated, established quartets, extremely accessible yet state-of-the-art. It’s hard to believe that this is the only recording of Virgil Thomson’s String Quartet No. 1 currently in print, and the Boston Composers String Quartet has a ball with it. Having heard this in concert before but never on album, what’s most impressive is how almost completely through-composed it is, Thomson emptying out his songbag (or collection of pilfered themes: church music, hillbilly tunes and ragtime, among others). The quartet are at their best at the end of the second movement where the composer finally introduces some bracingly modernist tonalties amid his disarmingly simple riffs for a long-awaited, nebulously understated payoff, a device he employs to break up the shamelessly catchy neoromanticism of the third movement as well.

The album opens with the Boston String Quartet playing Marie Incontrera’s jaunty, dancing Limbic Breath, the cello kicking up its heels throughout much of this relatively brief song without words punctuated by a thoughtful lull or two before returning to a romp. It’s fun and it’s a hit.

The Moravian Philharmonic Chamber Players contribute a somewhat sternly polyrhythmic, Philip Glass-influenced take of Ulf Grahm’s hypnotic The Timeless Lines of Time, moving precisely to a competely unexpected, nebulously nocturnal passage that establishes a murky tension left to linger memorably the rest of the way.

The New England String Quartet play the rest of the album, beginning with Michael Cunningham’s String Quartet No. 5, which deftly blends neoromantic melodies, modernist harmonies and classical architecture. The first movement, titled Zestful, works a tense suspense versus relaxed cantabile; the second, Languid, is far less languid than brooding, with a vivid exchange between cello and viola; the third, Spirited employs a rather wry tension between pizzicato and a steady staccato, with a big bracing coda and a quirky final flourish.

Alan Beeler is represented by two works whose rigorously mathematical underpinning is belied by their emotional vividness. Quartet 2000 quickly establishes a sense of longing out of hypnotic astringencies, closing with an altered waltz that manages to be sweeping yet austere at once. By contrast, his String Quartet No. 2 is basically a fugue with variations. A lush circular motif in the first movement falls away to many plaintive solo cello parts in the second, a quite possibly satirical, bouncy waltz in the third and then a pensive spaciousness in the fourth. It’s an unusual and rousingly successful blend of the here-and-now and the antique.

December 14, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Edgy String Band Eclecticism from the Real Vocal String Quartet

Former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, a pioneer of string-band improvisation, founded the all-female Real Vocal String Quartet. You could characterize them as a less caustic. considerably more eclectic alternative to Rasputina. They’re playing Barbes on Oct 13 at midnight – and then they’re at Passim in Cambridge, MA the next day at 4:30 PM! That same sense of adventure pervades their music, drawing on genres from around the world to create an enchanting, original, sometimes gypsy-tinged blend.

The best song on their 2010 self-titled debut was a radical reworking of a Paul Simon song, of all things. This time around, they open their new album Four Little Sisters by radically reworking Regina Spektor’s Machines, first giving it a slyly satirical, robotic bounce and then roaring through an outro that’s the furthest thing from detached and coldly mechanical. Everybody in the band – Sazer, violinist Alisa Rose (also of Quartet San Francisco), violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry – contributes vocals as well, therefore the band name.

Sazer’s instrumental Homage to Oumou follows, a swinging minor-key gypsy/klezmer romp capped by a blazing violin solo, held down by Ivry’s alternately stark, bowed washes and swinging pizzicato basslines. Elephant Dreams, by Rose, has a fresh, distantly West African tinge, swinging counterpoint and an edgy series of bluesy exchanges.

They begin Gilberto Gil’s Copo Vazio with an insistent staccato pulse, growing to pensive, lush chamber pop with a tersely thoughtful Sazer solo. Likewise, Maccabee’s arrangement of the cajun dance Allons a Lafayette gives it plenty of oomph – and some neat four-part vocal harmonies.

Duke Perarson’s Sweet Honey Bee is transformed by a Sazer arrangement into a tioptoeing but acerbic blues ballad with a long, intricately intertwining jam at the end – it makes a good segue with Vasen guitarist Roger Tallroth’s Falling Polska, a moody mix of the baroque and the Balkans. Durang’s Hornpipe, dating from the American Revolution, gets a rousing cajun treatment, and then a long jam, a vein they return to with the album’s more nocturnal concluding track, Grand Mamou Waltz. There’s also a bright, blue-sky cover of the Dirty Projectors’ Knotty Pine. It’s hard to think of another recent album that so entertainingly connects jazz, indie classical, jamband rock and so many other worlds as this one does.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | folk music, jazz, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Lively Tribute to Bargemusic Founder Olga Bloom

“We do more shows than anybody else,” bragged violinist and Bargemusic honcho Mark Peskanov, and that was no overstatement. New York orchestras and classical ensembles typically take at least the end of the summer off, but Bargemusic goes year-round. “First it was two nights. Then we said, could we do three?” He gave a quizzical look. “Now here we are, on a Monday!”

He was there on the converted 1899 coffee barge like he is most every day, this time to celebrate the birthday of Olga Bloom, who founded Bargemusic (and lived there for quite some time in the late 70s), whose vision of a noncommercial, non-corporate creative space for classical musicians and chamber music devotees has mushroomed beyond anyone’s expectations. Vital and active in music until almost the end of her life, she would have been turning 93. “We usually don’t talk much here,” Peskanov admitted, and he’s right. With the space’s Manhattan harbor view and the quality of the music here (“It has to go through me, so you know it has to be on the highest level,” Peskanov asserted), there’s no need to gild the lily: Bargemusic remains unsurpassed as a date spot, year after year.

There was music, too. Peskanov, a pyrotechnically skilled player, began with soaring yet precise solo Bach on violin in tribute to Bloom, who would typically begin the day by doing the same, “completely one with the music,” as Peskanov remembered her in the morning when he’d hear her playing from outside. He recalled how Leopold Stokowski would chide her for playing too loud: defiantly, she refused to tone down her act. For Bloom, Peskanov said, the string quartet was the highest expression of human creativity, so this particular night made a good excuse for him to join forces with violinist Laura Goldberg, violist Ah Ling Neu and cellist Guy Fishman for a romp through quartets by two of Bloom’s favorite composers, Beethoven and Haydn. The former’s String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4 began as it seemed how Bloom might have played it herself, irrepressibly jaunty on the opening allegro before contrasting powerfully, wary and wounded, with the andante scherzoso second movement. From there they worked their way up again to end on the vibrant note they began with. They picked up the pace even further with Haydn’s String Quartet in C, Op. 54, No. 2, throwing all caution to the wind and giving new meaning to the presto dynamic as it wound up joyously. Definitely not the sort of thing for people who consider string quartets to be good background music, but as an example of how passionate and exciting the genre can be, it was a thrill to be on the boat that night.

This quartet is back on the barge on May 12 at 8 PM and then on May 13 at 3 PM, doing the Beethoven and Haydn plus Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D; tickets are $35 and early arrival is highly advised. It’s also worth mentioning Bargemusic’s free, weekly Saturday 3 PM concerts: promoted as “family” shows, squalling infants don’t seem to be an issue, and as Peskanov can attest, the performers are first-rate.

April 4, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brooklyn Rider’s Seven Steps: In the Right Direction

There are several string quartets whose repertoire focuses on current composers (the Mivos Quartet, JACK Quartet and Chiara String Quartet, to name three especially good ones). There are others who play their own compositions, and even some who improvise, but it’s hard to think of another string quartet who manage to simultaneously carry the weight of being leaders in the world of new music, and have as much fun doing that, as Brooklyn Rider does. Pretty much every musician who makes it to major concert halls has virtuoso chops; what sets this ensemble apart is their irreproachable preference for material with substance and depth. And they are eclectic to the extreme, just as likely to dive into Armenian folk melodies or gypsy music as they are Philip Glass and Kayhan Kalhor (two composers for whom this group has become the go-to quartet). Their latest album Seven Steps is in many ways a distillation of their career, and yet a new starting point. Even if you may not agree with everything they’re doing, there’s no question that they’re shifting their paradigm.

The title track is a collective composition by violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen, with echoes of just about every place this group has been. Kicking off with a minor-key chromatic riff that bounces warily from the cello, there are allusions to Eastern Europe, Iran and hushed IRCAM-era ambience. The group matter-of-factly works its way through this eclectic mini-suite, from suspensefully slow tectonic shifts, to swirls of harmonics from the violins, to terse but lush melodicism, atonal atmospherics that rise to a hypnotically echoey Kalhor-esque crescendo and then a whispery conclusion. The second composition is Christopher Tignor’s Together Into This Unknowable Night. Simultaneously an anthem and a tone poem (which might sound paradoxical, but it’s not), it alludes to the hook from Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, swooping energetically against the ambient wash of noise from the composer’s AM radio (utilized to add texture: it never becomes intrusive). Flickering, insistent Philip Glass-like motifs (and a direct quote, maybe?) lead to a long, organlike swell fueled by the majestic gleam of the cello in tandem with the viola; like the opening track, it whispers its way out. Played at low volume, it’s a gentle nocturne, but for the musicians, it’s an inescapable vortex, a fact which makes itself loud and clear if you turn it up. It’s a characteristically vital work in the growing catalog of this ensemble’s memorable commissions.

The final piece here is an eye-opening, idiosyncratic and utterly original interpretation of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C# Minor, Op. 131. While there is an improvisational feel to some of this, notably the slinky, slippery dynamics in the introductory adagio (which begins more lento, actually), the end result is simply the logical result of the group’s interpretation of this work as the summation of a life. Essentially, what they’ve done here is tie up the loose ends, formatting Beethoven’s short, punchy phrases into a more legato architecture: Mendelssohn might have been tempted to do the same thing with it. The ensemble expands the dynamic range in the faster passages, notably in the second, Allegro Molto Vivace movement, emphasis on the vivace for awhile, but then they revert to an elegant cohesiveness: if there was ever a singleminded interpretation of this work, this is it. And yet by the end, they’re playing it pretty straightforwardly, letting Beethoven’s emphatic, unassailable confidence speak for itself: for all its apprehension, especially in the middle passages, it’s testament to a composer who simply would not be deterred, not by fashion, self-doubt, his own self-destructive tendencies or even the eventual inability to hear what he wrote. In that light, Brooklyn Rider’s approach is less radical than it is emotionally intuitive. It’s one of the most delightfully challenging recordings of the year.

March 6, 2012 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/23/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #495:

Robert Sirota – Triptych – The Chiara String Quartet

Arguably the most powerful, intense musical response to the horror of 9/11, composer Sirota’s anguished, horror-stricken suite for string quartet draws on artist Deborah Patterson’s triptych depicting the detonation of one of the towers, the death of NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge and the sky over the smoking hole at Ground Zero. The Chiaras premiered this at New York’s Trinity Church, barely two blocks away, in October, 2002. The frenzied horror of the first movement attempts to replicate sirens, a devil’s choir of car alarms and the chaos following the crash of the planes; the second is a grief-stricken lament; the third reaches for some sort of peace or closure. The only audio for this that seems to be on the web seems to be at cdbaby, where the album is still available, but terrific performances of this piece by the American String Quartet have made it to youtube in three segments, here, here, and here.

September 24, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vespertina Kills the Lights on the Bowery

In their New York debut at Bowery Poetry Club last night, Vespertina took the stage late. Was there an equipment malfunction? No, their string quartet were busy putting on their masks: evil, feline, woodland sprite faces. Frontwoman Lorrie Doriza went without one, as did her collaborator, a producer who goes by the name of Stoupe (from brilliant, socially aware hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks), standing to her left running ominous, lushly orchestrated backing tracks that sounded like something off a Wu-tang record circa 1996. There is no band in the world who sound anything like them, nor was there any respite from the intensity in their 45 minutes onstage. Doriza has one of those voices that comes along every ten years or so: from the point of view of someone who saw Neko Case in 1999 and Amanda Palmer a year later, she’s in the same league. There are other singers who have an equally impressive range, or an upper register just as powerful, but the most impressive thing about what she did is that she didn’t lapse into a single cliche all night. As the strings and the loops blended into a horror-film backdrop, the gleeful menace, and wounded angst, and rage, and sultriness in Doriza’s voice was so real it was scary. If those are characters she plays, she owns them.

Those girls are tortured. They want one thing, and that’s escape, beginning with the Girl in the Basement, the twisted waltz (and first single off the band’s new album The Waiting Wolf) that opened the show. That set the stage for the rest of the set. The only respite from the macabre was the closing number, a lushly arranged goodnight song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Abby Travis catalog, which relented just a little. Otherwise, the minor-key menace would not let up, and they managed to maintain the suspense because Doriza wouldn’t go completely over the top. When finally, finally, she let out a scream, it was a little one. Of course the laptop guy looped it and sent it back into the mix, echoing over and over – but in the distance, which made it all the more disturbing. One of the early songs in the set began like an aria, but quickly backed off. “Take me out,” Doriza implored – not on a date, one assumes. “She’ll be knocking down your door, burning down your home…nothing like a woman scorned,” she sang coldbloodedly on a tango-tinged song a bit later on.

The next number – like most of them, set to a prerecorded trip-hop beat – began with “You’ve been having trouble sleeping” and by the second verse it was “You’re having trouble breathing.” After that, the band got all atmospheric and trippy, slowly emerging from the abyss into a stately 6/8 anthem: “I’m not stupid – I just don’t care,” Doriza sang, desperate yet nonchalant. “You can’t escape me,” was the next song’s mantra, followed by “I’m running out of patience.” During the early part of the show, the string arrangements were too low in the mix; when they came up about a third of the way into the show, it was obvious how they’d been assembled to provide an artful lead track of sorts over the stuff that was in the can, which the ensemble delivered seamlessly yet emphatically beneath Doriza’s wounded wail. Count this as one of the best concerts of 2011, hands down – if the album is anything like this, it must be amazing. They’re playing the one town on Long Island that suits them best – Amityville – on May 29 at a place called Ollie’s Point.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Hit for Music Mondays

The most recent Music Mondays concert on the upper west side reaffirmed that the cat is out of the bag: the eclectic monthly series isn’t under the radar anymore. In January, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra drew a standing-room crowd; last Monday, the Jasper String Quartet’s performance was pretty much filled to capacity. Reason to make it to the church on time, next time. The Jaspers’ previous New York appearance was playing Georgyi Ligeti at le Poisson Rouge; this time out they wrapped Beethoven and Brahms around two stark, intense segments from Aaron Jay Kernis’ 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning String Quartet No. 2. And despite a fascinating rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet in D, Op. 18, No. 3 and the unselfconsciously warm familiarity of Brahms’ String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2, it was the Kernis that stunned the crowd. The quartet have a long relationship with the composer, and that affinity translated potently.

Kernis’ liner notes offered the surprising news that his piece was inspired, if not quite directly, by J.S. Bach suites. But the only resemblance to Bach was in the architecture, and in places, in the rhythm. Kernis’ acidic, astringent, troubled tonalities, anchored by Rachel Henderson Freivogel’s cello, began atmospherically in the second movement, titled Sarabande Double, and then alternated austere stillness with frenzied, anguished crescendos. Unsurprising, considering that it’s a requiem for one of Kernis’ most avid supporters. At the end, the quartet took it down as quietly as they could and let a long pause linger; the audience waited for more, but the elegy was over.

The rest of the program wasn’t nearly as dark, but it was interesting, and when there were places to have fun, the quartet latched onto those moments. In hindsight, Beethoven’s third published string quartet is actually the first one he wrote, and if it doesn’t foreshadow the tormented glimmer of the late quartets, it’s still cutting-edge for 1800: no mere Haydn ripoff, this one! Violinist J Freivogel’s whirling glissandos over strongly assertive cello and the viola of Sam Quintal lit up the opening Allegro, contrasted by a very serious Andante, a bustling, vivid Allegro and then an offhandedly playful romp through the conversational concluding Presto, violinist Sae Chonabayashi joining in the precise, deadpan interplay. After the white-knuckle, harrowing Kernis piece, was the closing Brahms quartet anticlimactic? Not if the group wanted to send the audience home on a happy note. Henderson Freivogel, who made the most of her many opportunities to shine, grabbed onto the nifty pizzicato of the opening Allegro non troppo; the whole ensemble followed in the same vein with the bright Vivaldiesque Andante moderato, the cozily predictable rondo in the Quasi Minuetto and the ebullient, triumphant finale. To 21st century ears, it’s a frustrating piece: it’s so attractive, yet so predictable, except for the occasional cadenza or suspenseful motif that the composer threw in as if to see if everyone was paying attention. In this case, they were.

Music Mondays’ next concert at the two-congregation church at 93rd St. and Broadway, is April 18 at 7:30 PM with fascinatingly eclectic all-female German recorder quartet QNG (Quartet New Generation), who typically bring a small U-Haul truck’s worth of recorders of various sizes along with a repertoire that spans the centuries.

April 3, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass: A Lush, Rich Treat

To call cutting-edge string quartet Brooklyn Rider’s new album Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass a “cohesive performance” doesn’t remotely do it justice. Other than solo passages, which are relatively few, it is for all intents and purposes impossible to tell the individual players apart. More often than not, the overall sound is like a giant, animated accordion. The players – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen – don’t take their phrasing lightly. Each one digs in with an intensity and a group vision that borders on the telepathic. It’s absolutely impossible to think of an ensemble better suited to these attractive, often absolutely beautiful pieces (Glass himself serves as co-executive producer here, which pretty much says it all).

Like a lot of other composers, Glass has no shyness about recycling his favorite ideas and riffs – and if they’re as memorable as the ones here, why not? As is their custom, the group put them in historical context, opening with the premiere recording of Glass’ Suite from “Bent” for String Quartet, an endless series of permutations on warmly consonant broken chords: it’s like an extended rock suite for string quartet, and it’s a hit. Then they take it back in time for Glass’ String Quartet No. 3 (a homage to Yukio Mishima), which uses a similar broken-chord device, and then his String Quartet No. 1 which is more of a tone poem, an exercise in effectively hypnotic atmospherics. The second cd here includes three more string quartets. No. 4 works an endless, almost imperceptibly crescendoing series of eighth-note passages, a real workout for the musicians, but their stamina never cracks. No. 2 is more hypnotic, a dizzying series of echo effects that sometimes hover, sometimes make a fugue with the warmth of the underlying atmospherics. No. 5, which concludes this massive recording project, trades off repetitive, circular themes that sometimes evoke the group’s landmark 2008 collaboration with Kayhan Kalhor, Silent City: it closes the album on an aptly pensive note. To have this much beauty in one place is a treat in itself. To hear it played as seamlessly and spiritedly as Brooklyn Rider have done here is even more of one. They’re at Alice Tully Hall, with Kalhor, on March 9 playing and premiering some of this, a concert not to be missed if you’re a fan.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment