Performing Arts: Kelli O'Hara lights up the Kennedy Center

10.18.10
Brooklyn Rider
The Washington Post

By Nelson Pressley

Musical imagination may be ineffable, but you recognize it when you hear it, and Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet that has been associated with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, has it in spades. The program they played at the George Mason Center for the Arts on Saturday included the Dvorak F Major Quartet (the "American") and Debussy's G Minor Quartet, standard concert fare, but what they did with these two was anything but standard.

Their baseline dynamic is pianissimo. A slight swell of line leaning toward piano sounds enormous and carries with it the promise of energy while preserving all the transparency that soft playing makes possible. Every string pluck had a measured weight and every release a discernable direction, but their gift was that none of this came out sounding premeditated, just part of their musical vocabulary. It was their phrasing, however, irresistible momentum and repose so organically related, that gave these two works such new faces. It's probably wise to be wary of performers who aim to put a personal stamp on the music they play, but in this case it was a cause for rejoicing.

The other two pieces on the program were John Cage's early "In a Landscape" (originally for piano), a contemplative and romantically atmospheric rumination, and a delightful new work by Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen called "Sheriff's Lied, Sheriff's Freude" ("Sheriff" is violist Nicholas Cords's nickname). It is a musical panorama at its most delightful. Evolving from mellifluous romanticism, it becomes more rhythmically adventurous and dance-like, breaks briefly into echoes of the Dvorak Quartet and then morphs through bluegrass, blues and jazz into a cheerful country hoedown. It's a piece that could be a poster for this ensemble that devotes so much of its energies to examining the seams where musical styles and cultures meet.