This concert was part of a 10th anniversary celebration for the genre-defying string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider. The group, which includes Johnny Gandeslman, violin; Colin Jacobsen, violin; Nicholas Cords, viola; and Eric Jacobsen, cello, burst on the scene a decade ago as one of the sparks thrown by Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, and they have since developed into a full-fledged conflagration. Deftly joining their classical chops to an equally considerable helping of indie-rock street cred, Brooklyn Rider has become the flagship operation for the new post-everything generation of chamber music composers. Their latest album, The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, represents an effort to put their loose network of likeminded musicians together as composers under the banner of inspiration. At once hearkening back to such classical precedents as Mozart’s “Haydn” quartets and to the mutual admiration expressed by composer Arnold Schoenberg and his friend the painter Wassily Kandinsky, the Almanac consists of 13 short compositions for string quartet written by friends of the group to express their feelings for relatively recent artists from a variety of media who they feel have inspired them.
Thursday’s concert began with “The Haring Escape,” six minutes of jaunty expressionism by Daniel Cords, the brother of Rider violist Nicholas and an admirer of 1980s New York street art sensation Keith Haring. Next up was “Dig the Say,” jazz pianist Vijay Iyer’s excursion through the sonic world of his inspiration, James Brown. Highlights, and there were many, included Bill Frisell’s gorgeous, Coplan-esque “John Steinbeck,” and “Quartet, Parts One and Two” by Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, a freewheeling feast of compositional indeterminacy dedicated to the inspiration of composer Christian Wolff.
UCSB’s Arts & Lectures program commissioned one of the pieces on the Almanac as part of its long-standing support of Brooklyn Rider, and the work, which was written by Wilco’s drummer Glenn Kotche, fittingly received special status as the climax of the second set. It’s called “Ping Pong Fumble Thaw,” and that’s exactly what it sounds like. Composed by Kotche at his drum kit in tribute to electronic musician Jens Massel, the piece pinged, ponged, and popped its way through several funky movements, all of them delivered by Rider with great savvy and skill. The large and appreciative audience present at Hahn Hall for this unusual night of new music made one thing abundantly clear: There is a real market for contemporary classical music, especially when it is delivered with this level of musicianship and imagination.