Four have indie rock fans

06.08.10
Brooklyn Rider
Post and Courier

By Bethany Larson

Approachable string quartet plays at clubs, appeals to younger crowd

The men of Brooklyn Rider seem to be the musicians of the moment. They have performed in Texas at the trendy film and music festival South by Southwest, played at New York City's laid-back club Joe's Pub, and stopped by NPR to record a Tiny Desk Concert for Bob Boilen's "All Songs Considered." Their latest album, "Dominant Curve," even received a positive review from Pitchfork, the hard-to-please indie music website. And this Tuesday and Thursday, Charlestonians can hear Brooklyn Rider when they play Spoleto's Music in Time series, which explores the topic of contemporary classical music.

Brooklyn Rider is not a rock band: It's a string quartet that has garnered a following within the indie rock crowd. The ensemble's members -- brothers Colin and Eric

Jacobsen, Nicholas Cords and Johnny Gandelsman -- present themselves as approachable, energetic chamber musicians by playing at bars and clubs that appeal to a younger demographic. They perform standing instead of sitting, and wear casual clothing instead of tuxedos, all of which further adds to their indie rock appeal.

"Their shows feel more accessible than typical classical concerts, where you're unsure of whether it's all right to clap between movements," said Shanta Thake, director of Joe's Pub. "A Brooklyn Rider show feels fun from the minute you see the guys onstage. It's not stuffy at all."

For the upcoming Charleston concerts, the program is typically eclectic, mixing such diverse composers as Claude Debussy, Philip Glass, Giovanni Sollima, Ljova, and including compositions by Colin Jacobsen, the group's in-house composer.

In addition to performing their own music, the musicians of Brooklyn Rider also have recorded and distributed their own albums, "Passport" and "Dominant Curve," through Gandelsman's record label, In A Circle Records.

The members of Brooklyn Rider received traditional classical musical training at the top two conservatories in the country. The Jacobsen brothers graduated from The Juilliard School, while Cords and Gandelsman attended Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. In addition to impressive schooling, all four have been involved in and deeply committed to Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, an orchestra dedicated to the fusion of Eastern and Western music.

"We all feel that a formative experience is our involvement in Silk Road," said Colin Jacobsen, 33, one of the two Brooklyn Rider violinists. "It's affected our vision of classical music and the wider world. It makes us constantly ask, 'What is music?' and 'What is important to us about it?' "

For Jacobsen, these questions are answered by his eclectic taste in music, which is always evolving, but currently ranges from the quiet lyrics of indie darling Bon Iver to the musical genre fado, 19th-century Portuguese songs about fate.

This goes to explain how Jacobsen thinks about and composes music. He says he consumes as much music as he can, allows it to blend in his head, and then he begins the process of merging the genres into a musical composition.

"I don't like to be a composer that writes in his head," admitted Jacobsen, who loves to reimagine medieval and Baroque music for the string quartet. "A lot of my stuff comes from musically doodling. I find things that are interesting to me and then I play with them like a kid plays with building blocks. But you have to remember that kids play very seriously. It's serious and fun at the same time."

Part of the fun for Jacobsen is the process of finding ideas. During Brooklyn Rider's NPR Tiny Desk Concert, he explained to host Bob Boilen that, "Second Bounce," one of his own compositions in a suite titled "Achilles Heel," was inspired by watching a bouncing ball. The musicians loved the idea of never knowing exactly where the ball would go next. Perhaps because the ball, like their music, refuses to respect boundaries and tends to surprise the audience.