Monday, February 15, 2010

Brooklyn Rider: Commuting to Harrisburg

This weekend – which according to the weatherguessers looks like it might be snow-free - a string quartet called “Brooklyn Rider” comes to town. They'll be performing at the Market Square Church this Saturday at 8pm. An added bonus is the OPEN REHEARSAL, free and open to anyone, between 1:30 and 3:30 at the church that afternoon!

They'll be performing some very new works – including one so new it's the World Premiere, a work commissioned by Market Square Concerts. I'll be telling you more about Lisa Bielawa's Graffiti dell'amante in a separate post. In addition to works by quartet violinist Colin Jacobsen and a Silk-Road colleague, Dmitri Yanov Yanovsky, there's Philip Glass's 2nd String Quartet  ("Company," written in 1984) and one of the great quartets by Franz Schubert, the one known as “Death and the Maiden” which will also be the subject of a subsequent post.

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Considering it's probably the first thing an audience gets to know about a new ensemble, a group's name is a very important part of its identity.

It used to be easy to name yourself after your location or home-base (the Budapest or Tokyo Quartets) or after a famous violin maker (the Guarneri Quartet), perhaps a favorite composer who was a feature of your repertoire (the Beethoven or the Amadeus Quartets), a benefactor (the Juilliard Quartet, founded by and in residence at the school of music) or, less commonly in these days of greater equality, after the quartet's first violinist (the Busch Quartet).

But once many of the best or most obvious names have already been taken, then you need to go a little further afield. The Emerson Quartet chose the New England poet because of a common bond with his transcendental aesthetic.

More recently, the Daedalus Quartet took its name from the inventor in Greek mythology who fashioned wings that allowed him to fly and thus obtain his freedom, so it's a good metaphor for an artist looking to soar through this wonderful creation we call art (on the other hand, I don't believe anyone has ever called themselves the Icarus Quartet).

The Enso Quartet takes its name from a Japanese zen painting of a circle “that represents... perfection as well as imperfection, the moment of chaos that is creation, the emptiness of the void, the endless circle of life, and the fullness of the spirit.”

Names, then, become a kind of mission statement. Many of them create a sense of mystery (“I wonder what that means?”), something hopefully catchy in this age of intense marketing and box-office accountability.

The string quartet calling itself “Brooklyn Rider” (and not, at least officially, the “Brooklyn Rider String Quartet”) combines the obvious and the metaphysical. Yes, they're from Brooklyn but even if “The Brooklyn Quartet” wasn't already taken, it didn't really seem to cut it with a group that had its roots in Yo-Yo Ma's “Silk Road Project.” Their repertoire spans all styles and centuries of the quartet's legacy, standard and otherwise, infused with a sense of world music and international guests they'd worked with on “the road.” And since “Musicians Without Borders” already belongs to another organization, they had to find some middle-ground between the historical context from the 18th and 19th Century string quartet to its present-day relevance in the 21st Century.

So, is the “Rider” in deference to a Haydn quartet by that nickname? Not exactly. Is it evocative of the New York City subway system because they are frequent commuters between home and performance venues (as most musicians in New York City are)? No. Despite the fact it makes it sound like an Indie Rock Group, it's actually updating an early 20th Century interdisciplinary concept promoted by a Munich-based group of eclectic artists who combined painting and music, calling themselves “The Blue Rider” or “Der Blaue Reiter” which in turn took its name from a 1903 painting by Wassily Kandinsky. One composer associated with them was Arnold Schoenberg, who was both composer and painter (later, you can read my post about his ground-breaking 2nd String Quartet and its relationship to paintings as well as his not-exactly-suitable-for-Valentine's-Day personal life).

In this spirit, Brooklyn Rider has created an art gallery on their website showcasing the work of some of their friends in which the proceeds are used to support new commissioning projects.

While more traditional quartets might add a pianist for the Brahms Piano Quintet or another cellist for the Schubert C Major String Quintet, “Brooklyn Rider” is more likely to add one of their colleagues from “The Silk Road Project,” like the Chinese pipa virtuoso, Wu Man or the Persian composer and kamancheh player, Kayhan Kalhor. They also draw inspiration from the exploding array of cultures and artistic energy found in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City, a place they also call home.

I hope you'll be able to join us for the wonderful, wide-ranging program Saturday at 8pm at Market Square Church in downtown Harrisburg. And please consider taking advantage of that open rehearsal – it's free, too – especially considering it gives you the opportunity to become a little better acquainted with brand new and very likely unfamiliar repertoire.

Dr. Dick

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