Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Brooklyn Rider's Journey

For their entry in the River To River series, this fantastic string quartet traveled from Vienna to Brazil, and from Kentucky to Japan, ending up among their fellow nomads, the Roma.

Mozart's Quartet No. 8 in F Major opened the show and proved to be music that is of its time in all the right ways. You can instantly hear how engaged the 17 year old Wolfgang was with the people and society around him. Brooklyn Rider's lively playing conjured up scenes of tinkling glassware and witty conversation - a party - in the first movement, moving naturally to the nocturnal Andante - the hushed after-party - and then on to the streaks of sunlight and galloping carriage ride of the final movements. Brilliant.

Phillip Glass's String Quartet No. 2 "Company" followed and, while I have become less convinced by his work over the years, there was certainly nothing unconvincing about the performance.

Much more fascinating was violinist Colin Jacobson's arrangement of Joao Gilberto's Undiu, which began with moody distortions and then got the whole group humming while making wonderful use of guest players Jeff Beeches on bass and Mathias Kunzli on percussion. This debut performance was a joy and the piece should be on their next record.

Colin's own Sheriff's Liede, Sheriff's Freude (a tribute to the long-suffering "sheriff" of the group, violist Nicholas Cords) closed the first half. With its bluegrass interjections it made good use of the virtuoso talent and wit of his fellow players.

Kojiro Umezaki, a master of the shakuhachi, took the stage alone to open the second part of the concert. He explained that his piece, ...as if none of this had ever happened..., was based on a work commemorating the victims of the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo (100,000 people died) and related it to the recent disasters in Japan. The gorgeously anguished breath of the flute competing with (and almost overwhelmed by) the glitchy electronics coming off his iPad made for a haunting meditation. The quartet returned for a beautiful rendition of Lullaby From Itsuki, a traditional Japanese melody that translated perfectly to this most untraditional combination of instruments. Another Umezaki piece, (Cycles) what falls must rise (which appears on Dominant Curve), brought the iPad back into the fold for another glitchy, powerful excursion.

Umezaki, who has worked extensively with Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, is a triple threat - a great player, an intriguing and emotional composer and a natural communicator.

The last part of the trip was a suite of music of the Roma, which touched on a variety of aspects of that tradition, from melancholia to gypsy jazz that would have had Stephane Grappelli tapping his feet and itching to join in. 

Each piece was met with louder cheers by the audience, who, whatever their travel plans were walking in, would happily hitch a globe-trotting expedition with Brooklyn Rider any time.

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