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Out of the Halloween Mists

New York
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
10/31/2011 -  
Brooklyn Rider: Seven Steps (New York City Premiere)
Christopher Tignor: Together Into This Unknowable Darkness
Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima”
Philip Zorn: Kol Nidre
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Opus 131

Christopher Tignor (Percussion), Brooklyn Rider: Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen (Violins), Nicholas Cords (Viola), Eric Jacobsen (Cello)

Brooklyn Rider Before (© Coco T. Dawg)

Brooklyn Rider today is what Kronos Quartet was 25 years ago. A string quartet which breaks all bounds, crosses over from funk to jazz to “serious” to rock. And in doing so, Brooklyn Rider, like Kronos, has become iconic, with its own claque, ardent fans and public niche.

But where Kronos–and JACK and other contemporary groups–give the guise of performing the oddest music with a physical veneer of “respectability”, Brooklyn Rider goes all out for the youth crowd. Last night, they played in a concert hall, but this season, they’ll have been at Tokyo’s Todaiji Temple, New York’s Joe’s Pub, the Library of Congress, and these past years they’ve been with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. As well as the United State Open Tennis Tournament. (I can’t guess what they play, but doubt if it will be After the Ball is Over.)

Nor do they perform “right”. Except for the cellist (obviously an anarchist-libertarian–idolater), they stand throughout the performance. At first I thought it was an affectation. But they have their reasons. After all, what rock group would sit down? And when it came right down to it, the four individuals here, while standing, were so independent, that they could have used their bows as batons.
Eccentric they may be for an older generation–the younger ones last night were ecstatic between pieces but quiet as a crypt while the group was playing–yet they know their fiddles. They play everything apparently brilliantly. Not only that, but the program they arranged could have well suited Halloween without being the least consciously scary.

More apt for the five works played would have been the title of a Janácek piano piece, Out of the Mists.

The opening Seven Steps was written–like so much rock music–as a collaboration of all four players. Seven short moments each rising from a misty nothingness. Almost Webernian fragments, except that one didn’t feel the music needed analysis. Each buzzing solo led to a jaunty grungy rhythm, a morose tune with some “night music” harmonies or simply subdued dances.

Christian Tignor, a name new to me, has played with various tock groups, studied composition at Bard, and in Together Into the Unknowable Night, performed on...uh...electronic drums?

I plead ignorance. But against the murmurings and tunes of the quartet, Mr. Tignor played softly on the snare drums, with his own tones shooting up and down. In his own words, he wanted “something they could lean into with their heart as well as their bow.”

Some might say that is the purpose of any quartet music, but the piece was intriguing.

Each of these two pieces were on the verge of that much misused word “minimalism.” With the quartet which Philip Glass made from the frustrating but fascinating Paul Schrader film, Mishima, Glass constructed six movements that were trademark minimalist. The titles went from “Grandmother and Kimitake” to “Body Building” to the final suicide of the Japanese writer, but there was a sameness. I could visualize parts of the film. Those who hadn’t seen it would say, “Oh…another Glass piece.”

J. Zorn (© Coco T. Dawg)

John Zorn and Ludwig van Beethoven made up the second half. Some say–rather inanely!–that Beethoven’s quoted the Jewish Kol Nidre in the sixth movement of his late quartet. (That is as coincidental as Smetana “quoting” Hatikvah in The Moldau!) But John Zorn did quote a few phrases from the prayer of atonement.

From those falling two notes, Zorn created an eight-minute calculus for the quartet, retaining the unmistakable first phrase. I found it dreamily intriguing, but hardly amongst his more substantial work.

Finally came the Beethoven, seven movements, the first of which–like the other works here–came out of the mist. It was almost orthodox Beethoven, though the standup performers were a bit distracting. Nobody could say it was ”light” Beethoven, but Brooklyn Rider started with an almost urgent fugue, continuing with a performance that had more enthusiasm than Elysium.

That, however, wasn’t the end of the concert. Many in the audience had come with masks for later parties. Brooklyn Rider was ready to join the fun.

Brooklyn Rider After (© Coco T. Dawg)

They returned decked out in regalia for a party, improvised vaguely on the D Minor Bach Toccata, and with Tignor, and a rapper who the audience knew, prepared to go out of the mists into New York’s own annual Walpurgisnacht.

Harry Rolnick



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