Musical Omnivores

Kayhan Kalhor, Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider , Brooklyn Rider
Santa Barbara News-Press

By Daniel Kepl

Tonight's Campbell Hall concert by Brooklyn Rider, America's most exciting new string quartet, will actually be a string quintet performance. Iranian Kayhan Kalhor, master of the kamancheh —an ancient Persian stringed instrument with four-strings, a long upper neck and bowl-shaped, resonating chamber —will join Brooklyn Rider for an evening of new music influenced by the cultures of both East and West: two pieces by Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen; a string quartet by American Philip Glass (the No. 3, "Mishima"); a work by the Italian cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima, and Kayhan Kalhor's own work, "Silent City" in an arrangement for kamancheh and string quartet.

Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project stoked the inspirational fires that have forged Brooklyn Rider's own musical mission. All four player —violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen – have played for many years in Mr. Ma's Silk Road ensemble, and have clearly been inspired by their contacts and travels along the ancient trade route that crisscrosses the Asian continent.

We caught up with Mr. Cords by telephone last week, as Brooklyn Rider was preparing to be the featured ensemble in residence at the Laguna Beach Music Festival. Mr. Cords was particularly happy with a new piece composed for quartet and kamancheh by Jacobsen. "It's a realy great piece. Colin and I went to Iran in the summer of 2005 to visit Kayhan, and learn a little bit about the culture of Iran. One of the things that we saw that made a lasting memory for us was an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple — like a beacon —that was constantly lit."

Most classical music lovers are familiar with Richard Strauss' tone poem "Thus Sprach Zarathustra," and just about everybody else recognizes the opening chords of the piece, used so effectively by Stanley Kubrick in the first minutes of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey." But very few know that Zoroastrianism was the state religion of Persia until the invasion of Macedonian Alexander III (Alexander the Great) in 333 BCE, and pre-dates Islam by centuries.

"Those beacon temples were called 'Atashgah,' which is the name of the new piece. I think Colin is trying to get the sensation of this eternal flame, this kind of flickering. I think Colin sees it as an internal metaphor for the creative: what that does, and how it has its way. It's a really beautiful peice, and Colin only finished it very recently — the ink will be fresh, but it's quite beautiful."

Brooklyn Rider has just finished recording the string quartets of Philip Glass — the CD set will be released in March. The Quartet No. 3, "Mishima," which will be performed tonight, is from music Mr. Glass composed for a film by Paul Schrader ("American Gigolo," "The Comfort of Strangers") about Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, who committed ritual suicide after a failed attempt to initiate a military coup in Japan in 1970. "It's been a two- or three-year odyssey," Mr. Cords says of the project, "both learning, and recording the quartets. We found, as a quartet, that we have a lot of affinity withh the world of Philip Glass."

Another piece for string quartet and kamancheh by Mr. Jacobsen (his brother, Eric, by the way, is the cellist for Brooklyn Rider), "Beloved, do not let me be discouraged," composed in 2008, is based on a Turkish love poem, and a section (Federico II) from cellist/composer Giovanni Sollima's massive "Viaggio in Italia," composed in 2000, will give Santa Barbarans a chance to catch up on new repertoire. The concert's finale will be Kayhan Kalhor's "Silent City," commissioned by the Silk Road Project in 2005.