Frankly Music presents Brooklyn Rider

Brooklyn Rider
ThirdCoast Digest

By Barbara Castonguay

Brooklyn Rider is not your grandmother’s string quartet.

Violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Chords and cellist Eric Jacobsen are young, vivacious and charming. They stand (with the exception of the cellist) instead of sit and move and dance freely, emoting as they play. Their programming is innovative, and they seem equally at home with Debussy and Phillip Glass.

Brooklyn Rider played on the Frankly Music series Tuesday night at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Extremely virtuosic playing and the obvious exuberance and excitement of the players made this one of the concert highlights of the season.

The program opened with a composition by BR violinist Colin Jacobsen. In this piece, Jacobsen set out to “put together notes as children play; childlike and uninhibited, yet filled with rules and boundaries.” You certainly get a sense of Jacobsen’s pop/rock and folk music influences. He is not a composer sitting quietly in his studio pounding out tunes on the piano. He is a collaborator, a musician composing out of pure inspiration and the desire to make music with his friends. His Achille’s Heel is playful, witty, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Phillip Glass’ rarely performed String Quartet #4, “Buczak,”was written in 1990 in remembrance of artist Brian Buczak. The first and final movements are classic Glass, with repetitive underpinning that seems to soar when it’s done right. BR does it right, creating expressive phrases in Glass’ repetitive framework that propel the music. The middle movements seem less like Glass and more like Messiaen in their harmonic language. Debussy’s influence is also apparent in this middle section, where the cello melody could be lifted right out of one of his chamber works.

Also on the program was virtuoso cellist Giovanni Sollima’s Frederico II, the first movement from an hour-long piece based on the cultural history of Italy (Viaggio in Italia). This piece nearly brought the house down before intermission, with its driving rhythm, tonally pleasing simplicity, and the fearless ferocity of the performances. This piece proves that classical music can be as vicious as heavy metal.

BR planned this entire program around Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in g, Op. 10, which concluded the program. Debussy’s harmonic language is lush and sensual, draws upon modal harmonies, early music and Javanese gamelan. The sweetness of the first and third movements gives way to ferocious passion in the final movement. BR played it like rock stars.

With the program in this order, Debussy sounds like Glass. Or Sollima. Scary new music sounds like beautiful old music, and vice versa.

And that’s kind of the point.