Blessed as we are in Santa Barbara with an abundance of organizations dedicated to presenting the world’s best live music, it’s always interesting when a group becomes a hit with more than one of them. Brooklyn Rider, the innovative string quartet from New York, returns to UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, May 11, for its third appearance since 2011 in the university’s Arts & Lectures (A&L) concert series. In addition to these performances for UCSB’s A&L, the organization that introduced them to Santa Barbara audiences, Brooklyn Rider also played a major role in the 2014 Ojai Music Festival and appeared as a guest artist in the 2013 season of the Music Academy of the West. If you start including the times Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Colin Jacobsen (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola), and Michael Nicolas (cello) have appeared in our area as members of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and in their chamber orchestra guise as The Knights, the number of their area appearances in the past decade quickly doubles. That’s a whole lot of Central Coast love for four guys from Brooklyn. What is it about Brooklyn Rider that makes them so popular, not only with programmers but with audiences?
The short answer: talent and relationships. These dynamic string players are super-collaborators, a skill they no doubt honed as charter members of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. From Jeremy Denk’s opera The Classical Style in Ojai to the world premiere at UCSB of “Ping Pong Fumble Thaw,” a composition by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche that was commissioned by A&L, Brooklyn Rider consistently demonstrates the widest and most confident approach to working with other artists of any contemporary classical group. Their concert on Thursday will feature perhaps their most significant co-creator, and certainly the one who has had the deepest influence on them since Yo-Yo Ma — the virtuoso kamancheh player and composer Kayhan Kalhor. Jacobsen credits the group’s 2004 trip to Iran with Kalhor as the impetus for his career as a composer, and the upcoming program features several pieces inspired by that journey, including the memorable title track from the group’s 2008 album, Silent City.
When I spoke with violist Cords by phone last week, he reflected on the values that drive the group’s ongoing involvement with other musical traditions by saying, “Our projects with Kayhan are intended to show a different side of an area of the world that’s not always well understood.” Developing his point further, Cords offered this: “With everything we do, there’s always something experiential about it … the interest of the material is in what it calls us to be. We seek interactions with other artists that are meaningful and that push us as musicians and as human beings. We believe that when we start from this perspective of doing it for ourselves, then it’s implicit in the performances, and audiences feel it, too.”
Another of Brooklyn Rider’s longstanding musical relationships will be on display Thursday, this one with composer Philip Glass. They will play his String Quartet No. 7 in what will be the Santa Barbara premiere. The group released a CD in 2011, Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass, that covered what was at the time his “complete string quartets,” numbers one through five, but Glass has been busy since then and has written two more. Cords describes the seventh as “pristine, beautiful, and Bachian,” modifiers that ought to have fans excited at the prospect of hearing the piece in person. Given all this great music, new and old, there’s never been a better time to experience Brooklyn Rider, one of our region’s most cherished frequent visitors.
4·1·1 UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Brooklyn Rider with Kayhan Kalhor Thursday, May 11, 7 p.m., at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.