Entertainment Highlights: Brooklyn Rider Presents Works of Inspiration

Brooklyn Rider
Valley News

By Katie Beth Ryan

That fear of falling into a creative rut that nags many bands as they try to produce new material probably won’t be a great concern for the avant-garde string quartet Brooklyn Rider. This is a group whose very career is based in looking for inspiration in familiar and unlikely places, and challenging conventional notions of what a string quartet does.

Look no further for evidence of the band’s creative versatility than the Brooklyn Rider Almanac, which will have its world premiere tomorrow night at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts. The Almanac finds Brooklyn Rider reaching out to musicians and composers outside of the classical music realm, who created new pieces for string quartets that are inspired by artists of the last 50 years. It’s a nod to the 50th anniversary of the Hop, one of the commissioners of the project.

“There are a lot of composers who are really straddling between the worlds these days of rock and classical, and doing it really successfully,” Brooklyn Rider violist Nicholas Cords said this week. “I think our idea in creating a collection of these pieces is to hopefully create a tapestry where we can talk about culture and the question of inspiration in a broad way. That’s kind of at the heart of what we’re doing.”

The musicians who created the five Almanac pieces are as diverse as the creative forces that inspired their works.

The words of novelist John Steinbeck fueled guitarist Bill Frisell’s contribution to the Almanac, while jazz pianist Ethan Iverson found inspiration in the work of choreographer Mark Morris. Another pianist, Nik Bartsch, turned in an Igor Stravinsky-influenced work, and Australian musician Padma Newsome wrote his piece with the art of Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira in mind. Finally, Greg Saunier, drummer of the indie rock band Deerhoof, composed a piece that was inspired by Royalton composer and former Dartmouth classics professor Christian Wolff. Put together, the Almanac pieces and the names behind them should make for a great conversation about the sources for artistic influence. And that’s exactly what Brooklyn Rider hopes to achieve.

“In some ways, we’re creating an almanac for the 21st century,” Cords said. “I don’t know that our goals would be to alter the thinking of the art world, necessarily, but we are trying to make a statement about who we are, where we are now, what inspires us to do what we want.”

Brooklyn Rider’s own creative output in the four years since they last played at the Hop rivals what some artists achieve in a lifetime.

High-profile performances at Carnegie Hall and the South By Southwest music and arts festival in Austin, Texas, and a 2011 album of string quartets by the famed composer Philip Glass, have bolstered the band’s reputation far beyond the classical music sphere. More importantly, it’s been a fertile and intense period of collaboration across diverse musical and artistic mediums as Brooklyn Rider remains true to its classical roots, and at the same time pushes the limits.

That balancing act can be seen in Brooklyn Rider’s program tomorrow night. Apart from the Almanac pieces, the band will perform Beethoven’s Opus No. 131, a piece from late in the composer’s career that Cords called “one of the great pinnacles of the string quartet, and perhaps of Western classical music.” But first, they’ll play Seven Steps, a direct response to Beethoven’s piece that is one of the group’s first efforts at composition.

“We’re not really out to rail against that sort of classical music establishment. It’s kind of where we came from,” Cords said. “What we are out there to do is to make sure that we’re being inclusive of that audience, but also finding ways that new audiences can actually feel a part of this thing as well.”