Brooklyn Rider on the Akron Art Museum's Fuze! series

Brooklyn Rider

By Mike Telin

Over the past two to three years, many of my New York based colleagues have been telling me that Brooklyn has now become the new center of cultural activity in the city. They also tell me that this is due to the large migration of artists who now call Brooklyn home. Whether or not Brooklyn is the center is a debate best left for the residents of New York, however, last week audiences in Northeast Ohio had an opportunity to hear two superb chamber music ensembles, both of whom call Brooklyn New York home.

On Thursday March 11 at the Akron Art Museum, the string quartet Brooklyn Rider (Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violins, Nicholas Cords, viola and Eric Jacobsen, cello) treated listeners to a well-crafted program, that like their latest CD, Dominate Curve, consisted of newly composed and existing works that are inspired by the music of Claude Debussy, the sum of which resulted in roughly 60 minutes of pure listening pleasure.

Colin Jacobsen’s Achille’s Heel is a modal work whose title is a sort of play on words (Debussy was actually born Achille-Claude), and the program notes tell us that the piece itself is a celebration of play. Achille’s Heel demonstrates that Mr. Jacobsen clearly has something to say as a composer, as the piece takes the listener on an emotionally playful musical journey. The four-movement work begins as a simple duet between the violin and cello, and gradually builds by adding instruments and musical steams as the piece progresses, culminating with the tossing of rapid passages between the players. Also by the end of the piece you feel as though you know who Brooklyn Rider is.

The second string quartet by Philip Glass, subtitled "Company" (1984) was written for a dramatization of the Samuel Beckett poem of the same name. The quartet gave a brilliant performance of this short four-movement work, playing with a rich blended sound, pitch perfect intonation and total physical control that allowed one to keenly hear the subtle development of the pieces musical structure.

Born in Uzbekistan and now in residence at Harvard, Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s niente, was written for Brooklyn Rider in 2009. Quartet and composer first collaborated as part of the Silk Road Project. The musicians joked about the fact that while Mr. Yanov-Yanovsky uses a small passage from the Debussy quartet, it is so small they sometimes they can’t find it. That being said, …al niente is a lovely contemplative composition, and one could tell that the quartet enjoyed playing the piece.

The final work on the program was the Quartet in g minor, Op. 10 of Debussy. After hearing the three previous works, the breaking of late 19th century rules, for which Debussy received much criticism, seemed quite tame; parallel fourths, fifths and octaves sounded almost old fashioned. However the performance was anything but. Brooklyn Rider gave an emotional reading of the piece, playing mostly with their trademark straight tone, adding vibrato only as an accent to the work's numerous color and mood changes. Throughout, the quartet demonstrated their fine individual and collective musicianship, playing with a richly blended sound and seamlessly passing off the musical lines. The pizzicatos in the 2nd movement danced their way from player to player. While there were many things to truly admire about the performance, for me, the most impressive was that they chose to perform the piece without breaking the mood between movements -- holding their physical positions, letting the sound fade, and allowing the next movement to begin before dropping their bows. And, in doing so, the tonal relationships of the movements to be heard. What a pleasure. Bravo and a very fine concert.