Concert review: Brooklyn Rider promises an evocative musical experience | Arts

Questions you may ask yourself in the audience at a Brooklyn Rider show may include: Is it really a violin? Are you sure there are only four people on stage? Can a cello make this noise? Is this whirring coming from the stage or from an essence deep within me? And maybe to your disbelief, the answers are yes, yes, yes, and believe it or not, the scene! The mastery of the extended technique and expert navigation of the labyrinthine arrangements defined the Brooklyn Rider’s Celebrity Series residency premiere performance at GBH’s Calderwood Studio on October 7, 2021. Overnight, the quartet took the audience on an intimate exploration of five compositions, including two world premieres. Almost every piece was specially commissioned for the band and boldly showcased their provocative and experimental playing styles. Between songs, the artists greeted the audience in the thoughtful settings of each piece and invited composer Osvaldo Golijov to do the same before the world premiere of his piece “Um Día Bom (A Good Day)”. Through music and conversation, Brooklyn Rider kicked off their three-performance series with a night of meditative and engaging music.

Violinist Colin Jacobsen raised his bow with full body strength before the opening notes of Kinan Azmeh’s composition “Dabke on Martense Street” broke the anticipated silence of the night. Cameras aimed at the towering stage protruding from the bare floor through metal risers gave the show an exclusive feeling, like a behind-the-scenes pass at a broadcast event. As the piece matured into chaotic grandeur, the melody leapt from instrument to instrument amid cryptic harmonies. As violist Nicholas Cords later explained, the work was composed during the height of confinement and depicted a dance in the streets of Brooklyn as envisioned by Azmeh, the composer. In its eerie crescendo of complexity, the composition captured, perhaps, the reluctance and tension of celebration when the end of the pandemic seemed far from near. Even now, as the performers take the stage in front of a masked audience, we strive to imagine the celebration of normalcy in the future. The power of this music to evoke critical meditations on contemporary audiences’ lives was made possible by the thoughtful discussion between performances.

“Borderlands” was composed as a “graphic score” by Matana Roberts for performance by Brooklyn Rider. Cords explained that the quartet would not be looking at the notes of the next piece, but rather works of art, search words on the US-Mexico border crisis, various time signatures, and “rules of engagement” such as described by Roberts. The result was a hard-hitting, asymmetrical and menacing display of passion with discordant slips and pluckings of strings and a relentless chanting of titles and slogans such as “We take these truths for granted”. It was in this room that the audience wondered if the moans, snores and beeps emanating from the stage were really coming from the bow of cellist Michael Nicolas.

In the next piece, “Aroma a Distancia”, violinist Johnny Gandelsman also joined a series of other cacophonous sounds. Sometimes the music felt like it echoed from the body of a single instrument. In other parts, sharp strikes and percussive strikes, hits and nicks with the bow interrupted the rippling sound flow.

The show reached its climax with the exhibition and performance of “Um Día Bom (A Good Day)” by Osvaldo Golijov. Golijov described what it was like to write for Brooklyn Rider, telling the band “I can not only see how you play, but feel how you tilt”, acknowledging how amazing it was that the same four instruments can sound so different in different hands. He then exhibited the inspiration for his composition, from the imagination of a baby’s endless potential with misty eyes in his crib to personal memories of lost friends. The composition followed five acts which approached death, loss, love, birth and the warmth of good company with shocking immediacy. Jacobsen said at the end of the play, “I wish I could keep playing it for a very long time,” as the ubiquitous melody of the final act surely resonated in the audience’s memory.

The finale was arranged by violinist Jacobsen himself, adapted from the song “Undiú” by bossa nova artist João Gilberto. As the quartet abandoned their instruments for a vocal interlude with the singular lyrics “Undiú”, the concert seemed to come to an end. It seemed necessary for Brooklyn Rider to write her own “rules of engagement,” as the music throughout the night deserved more than silent observation. This provocative group will return to Calderwood Studio GBH this year on November 12 and again in 2022 on March 18.

– Editor-in-chief Jacob R. Jimenez can be contacted at [email protected]

Corina C. Butler

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