There’s a lot of forward leaning in chamber music today. Fortunately for us, Santa Barbara has played host to many of the movement’s forerunners of late, including violinist Jennifer Koh, the Calder Quartet, the Silk Road Ensemble, Christopher Rountree’s wild Up, yMusic ensemble, the Danish String Quartet, and monthly concerts by the inimitable and protean Camerata Pacifica. The term “classical music,” as a category for all art music produced on symphonic instruments, is even more irritatingly awkward in the 21st century than it was in the late 20th century; and the term “new classical music” is just oxymoronic. Today’s conservatory-trained musicians often have a footing in rock and jazz, and the currents of world music continue to inundate all genres. In short, there are super exciting and rigorous collaborations happening between imaginative, highly trained, and diverse musicians throughout the global village.
Among these forward-leaners, Brooklyn Rider seems to be operating at full tilt. Formed by four men who bonded through playing together in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble — Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen, violins; Nicholas Cords, viola; Eric Jacobsen, cello — the brilliant New York-based string quartet has distinguished itself by years of fresh and fertile collaborations. Now, for its 10th anniversary, the quartet is touring its most daring project to date, The Brooklyn Rider Almanac: short, new works by 13 diverse musicians, including jazz pianists Ethan Iverson and Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Daniel Cords, rock drummers Greg Saunier and Glenn Kotche, vocalists Aoife O’Donovan and Christina Courtin, multi-instrumentalist Dana Lyn, and more. The Santa Barbara Independent spoke with Brooklyn Rider violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen by phone.
So, this tour is all about the new album? Yeah. So much of our energy for the last year or two has been devoted to Brooklyn Rider Almanac, very much celebrating 10 years of being a group. We’re very excited, now that this music’s been recorded, that it is living live in front of people.
Your group is named for the Blue Rider artists’ collective that formed around the painter Wassily Kandinsky, and they published an almanac of their own. Was this album a matter of namesake destiny? Thinking about our 10th anniversary as a group, we wanted to encapsulate some of our interests and where we come from. And the Blue Rider group, which included people like [artist] Franz Marc and [composer] Arnold Schoenberg, put out an almanac that was really eclectic. It was a loose association of artists, but what we loved was how eclectic their sources of inspiration were, from Russian folk art and wood-block prints, and so-called primitive art at the time. They just had so many different kinds of articles and writings about music in that almanac. So we thought we could create some sort of almanac for our time, as well, but mainly focus on music, since that’s what we do.
UCSB Arts & Lectures had a hand, I understand, in one of the pieces? They’re commissioning partner in Glenn Kotche’s piece, Ping Pong Fumble Thaw. We’ll have its world premiere while we are there. Glenn is a great musician, a wonderful drummer of the band Wilco, but he’s also a great composer, and has a whole life writing music for people now outside of the band. With The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, we were really asking people — many of whom are outside of what we think of as the traditional classical-music world — to write short pieces for string quartet in which they name an artistic inspiration of their choice. So people like Glenn and Greg Saunier, another drummer, as well as people from the jazz world like Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, and Ethan Iverson from The Bad Plus, all have written really interesting pieces. Glenn’s piece is inspired by the German electronic music producer Jens Massel, and his piece is so rhythmically beautiful the way it unfolds. I also love playing ping-pong, so I have a personal connection to the piece.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Brooklyn Rider at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall as part of its Up Close & Musical series on Thursday, January 22, at 7 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info.