String quartet, Persian music master prove a captivating blend in Alverno performance

Kayhan Kalhor, Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider , Brooklyn Rider
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Elaine Schmidt

The most amazing things happen when brilliant people cross paths.

Take, for instance, the concert by the wildly inventive string quartet Brooklyn Rider and Kayhan Kalhor, an Iranian kamancheh (a traditional, bowed string instrument) player and Persian music master, on the Alverno Presents series Saturday evening.

The members of Brooklyn Rider are some of the freest spirits of the string quartet world. They are as at home in the world of Brahms and Beethoven as they are in improvisational styles or in the vast possibilities presented by world music.

The quartet - violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen (yes, the Jacobsens are brothers) - met Kalhor while performing with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.

The five musicians have written music for their unusual quintet, combining the plaintive, ancient sound of the kamancheh and the broad possibilities of the string quartet.

Among the pieces on Saturday's program was Colin Jacobsen's "Atashgah," a moody reflection on ancient temples he visited in Iran. The work is filled with a compelling energy, rich Middle Eastern harmonies and a dignified gravitas.

The ensemble also performed "Seven Steps." Written by the quartet, the piece - divided into seven musical vignettes and inspired by works of Beethoven - is an eclectic mesh of sounds and rhythms that reach across multiple centuries and styles, creating a style all its own.

The members of Brooklyn Rider also gave a taut, hypnotic performance of a suite based on Philip Glass' music for the 1997 film "Bent." The work really underscored the quartet's ensemble skills: They breathed together, flawlessly bowed in sync, and played with spot on pitch and rhythm, giving the sort of performance that demands and wins absolute attention from the audience.

The five musicians closed the program with a captivating performance of Kalhor's "Silent City," which begins with a somber, mournful, kamancheh solo. Over the course of the piece, cold, gray sounds give way to warmer and fuller tones, ending in a lively, hopeful burst of energy - earnest, honest music that yielded a deeply moving performance.