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Music review: Stillwater Music Festival opens with Brooklyn Rider's rough take on Philip Glass

08.29.11
Brooklyn Rider
Twin Cities Pioneer Press

By Rob Hubbard

Whenever composer Philip Glass has created a new string quartet, the Kronos Quartet has been his go-to group. But now another foursome has emerged as major Glass interpreters: Brooklyn Rider, a group that features three Twin Cities natives who enjoy returning to their stomping grounds and heading up the Stillwater Music Festival at this time each year. On the heels of their release of the composer's complete works for string quartet, they presented a concert full of Glass on Sunday night.

However, the Stillwater Music Festival didn't open in Stillwater, but in the considerably more urban environs of Minneapolis' West Bank neighborhood. And the Cedar Cultural Center - a venue known for presenting folk and world music - turned out to be an appropriate setting for how Brooklyn Rider plays Glass. For the group lent each of the four works they performed a rustic, rough edge that bore overtones of disparate cultures. It was a far cry from the pretty, pristine soundtracks of the many films Glass has scored, but it proved a welcome reminder of the aggression and emotional turbulence that bubbles beneath the composer's undulating, hypnotic soundscapes.

It was a concert that grew in intensity as it progressed, starting with a haunting rendition of the composer's fourth quartet, its Adagio as eerie and discomfiting as one of Bernard Herrmann's scores for an Alfred Hitchcock film. But a piece that the group recently gave its world premiere - a suite from Glass' music for the 1997 film "Bent" - demonstrated a widely varying set of moods, from playful pizzicato to the sad cry of Colin Jacobsen's solo violin at the work's conclusion.

The quartets dubbed "Company" and "Mishima" made up the program's second half, and the latter work proved the concert's highlight. It was an explosive and electrifyingly powerful performance, full of fury and conflict.

But, speaking of electrifying, the group's decision to wire and amplify their instruments seemed to cut back on the works' sonic possibilities. Yes, it made the music louder, but also thinner, making one wonder if an unplugged performance would have served Glass better.

The rest of the festival's concerts have a Beethoven bent: Tuesday's rooftop concert at the Stillwater Public Library is all Beethoven, while Thursday's festival finale features Beethoven, Mozart, Joao Gilberto and Roma (or gypsy) music. The group also performs at the State Fair's Minnesota Public Radio stage at noon Wednesday.