Brooklyn Rider, at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, Jan. 25.
Wednesday evening, in Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center, Brooklyn Rider showed that you can build a successful program entirely out of challenging works—no need to bury one hard piece in the middle of more palatable repertory.
Part of a multiple-day educational residency for Rockport Music, Brooklyn Rider played with energy and accessibility, in a program that included Philip Glass’s third quartet, “Mishima”; Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata quartet; Colin Jacobsen’s “BTT”; and Beethoven’s “Serioso,” the Op. 95, F minor.
“Mishima” makes for a terrific concert opener. Glass really mines the obvious connection between minimalism and Eastern culture. This remembrance of Yukio Mishima—derived from Glass’s score to the Paul Schrader film about the author—creates alluring, non-excessive patterns of sound, and develops key changes and melodic lines (most notably in the first violin, toward the end of the sixth and final movement) that are subtly alive.
Janacek’s first quartet, with its beautiful backstory destined to be forever linked to any performance, and Beethoven’s crisp F minor, need little exploration. “Kreutzer” was played with intense precision; the “Serioso” was also well turned, with lots of energy, but some dynamic possibilities were left unpacked. Still, at that point in the program (read below) there was a kind of aggressive atmosphere onstage that got transferred. That made this a genuine performance, not just an “echt” reading.
Jacobsen’s “BTT” (the title has possibilities; one, says the composer: Between Two Towers) derives first from thoughts about the New York 1970s downtown scene, and, more specifically, from the musical anagrams formed by the last names of John Cage (pentatonic, possibly Appalachian or Irish, says Jacobsen) and J.S. Bach (formal, chromatic).
“BTT” does pay specific homage to “downtown”: you can hear ostinato diversions (Glass, Reich); melody over drone (Monk, in the viola, and also a bit of singing or spoken word by Gandelsman); Glenn Branca’s hammer-on guitar licks (mimicked by Gandelsman); open chords and maybe a bit of aleatoric “writing” (Cage).
Parts of “BTT” sounded like Kronos Quartet’s “Pieces of Africa” (Tilliboyo)—I know, not downtown, and not even east coast. But same feel.
Derivations do not dominate “BTT.” This piece really works—“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Gandelsman said, seemingly unrehearsed, at the end, a charming compliment to his stage-mate.
Demanding (lots of ponticello, lots of Bartok pizzicato), engaging, it has a theme-and-variations feeling, but without either. Just the notion that it comes from one strong idea, and moves in related ways through others.
Everyone was involved; by the time it reached its hoedown climax (there’s the C-A-G-E), melodies and lead-lines had been passed through each instrument.
Keep this work in the rep, and make sure other groups explore it.
CADENCES: The quartet performs standing, something not enough string quartets try. Emerson adopted it some years ago. Betting there’s a chapter in some Dalcroze Eurythmics textbook about how it improves gestural communication—it does. They play with tablets rather than paper scores. That won’t be something worth noting in just a few years. They also play with first and second violins in front, opposite, and the lower voices behind, another thing that works beautifully for quartet. Violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen alternated first desk. The hall was about three-quarters full.
The foursome has spent the last couple days in North Shore schools—a successful residency, say my smallish but impeccable elementary school sources. This is one of the quartet’s first performances with new cellist Michael Nicolas, who played beautifully (not standing). He replaces co-founder Eric Jacobsen, whose conducting duties (Orlando, Bridgeport, Northwest Sinfonietta) have taken more of his time.
Upcoming presentations of note at Rockport Music: Christian Tetzlaff/Lars Vogt, Feb. 12; cellist Taeguk Mun (with accompanist Noreen Cassidy-Polera, March 5); pianist Luca Buratto (April 29–Adès’s “Variations for Blanca” on that program, along with “Davidsbündlertänze”). Josh Bell opens this summer’s Rockport Chamber Music Festival—just try to get a ticket for that.