Foursome’s Boundless Musical Map

07.13.11
Brooklyn Rider
The New York Times

By Allan Kozinn

Brooklyn Rider has found a handful of fascinating ways to keep its repertory both fresh and broad. Its involvement with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project has helped this quirky string quartet understand musical styles beyond the Western mainstream and has put it in contact with potential collaborators who play non-Western instruments. Because a couple of the quartet’s members compose and arrange, they can supplement commissions from other composers with works of their own. And every now and then the group fills out its playlist the old-fashioned way: by looking back at the conventional repertory and spending some quality time with, say, a Mozart quartet. 

Mozart’s early Quartet in F (K. 168) opened Brooklyn Rider’s contribution to the free River to River Festival on Tuesday evening at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, and the group played the work as if it were one of its specialties, with a trim, thoroughly transparent sound and brisk tempos in the outer Allegros, a touch of dark-hued mystery at the start of the Andante, and a buoyancy that propelled the Menuetto.

And from there the quartet headed toward its more typical fare, starting with a warm-toned account of Philip Glass’s Quartet No. 2 (“Company”) and then taking a sharp turn toward Brazil for a growling, energetic arrangement (by Colin Jacobsen, one of Brooklyn Rider’s violinists) of João Gilberto’s “Undiú. Jeffrey Beecher, a bassist, and Mathias Kunzli, a percussionist, joined the ensemble for the Gilberto and stayed on for Mr. Jacobsen’s own “Sheriff’s Leid, Sheriff’s Freude,” a work built around zesty bluegrass fiddling.

Much of the program’s second half was a collaboration with Kojiro Umezaki, a virtuosic, deeply expressive shakuhachi player and composer, though Mr. Umezaki had the stage to himself for his “... as if none of this ever happened,” an evocative meditation on the recent earthquake in Japan for shakuhachi and electronics. He based the work on “Kogarashi,” a piece that Nakao Tozan composed after seeing the destruction caused in Tokyo by a devastating earthquake in 1923, but his own variations, as well as the digital delay and other electronic elements, transformed it into a wrenching modern work.

With the quartet Mr. Umezaki gave an airy account of a traditional Japanese lullaby, and a vital, texturally varied performance of his “Cycles (what falls must rise).” Mr. Umezaki remained onstage, sometimes playing, sometimes taking in the performance by the quartet and its guest rhythm section, during a set of Gypsy dances, packed with fiery tandem violin lines, in colorful, high-energy arrangements by Lev Zhurbin.