When you hear the words “string quartet,” what images comes to mind? Stone-faced, tuxedo-clad, clean-shaven musicians, methodically performing the music of long-dead composers, perhaps?
Meet Brooklyn Rider.
The members of this classically trained quartet of 30-somethings are anything but stereotypical, both in appearance and repertoire.
They’re on a mission to demystify the chamber music genre, making it appealing to wider audiences.
Hailed as “the future of chamber music” by Strings magazine, the world-renowned Brooklyn Rider string quartet makes its New Orleans debut with two performances Monday and Tuesday. The first, in the House of Blues’ Foundation Room on Monday, will be a benefit for their local host organization, New Orleans Friends of Music. The second performance will be a concert at Tulane University’s Dixon Hall on Tuesday evening.
The group is determined to merge folk, pop and other contemporary styles with classical music. Of the eight selections in the New Orleans program, only a Franz Schubert piece fits neatly into the traditional classical realm. Seven of the eight composers are still living, and some are around the same age as the quartet members.
Taking its name from the New York City borough where they live and its inspiration from the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group of artists and composers living in Munich, Germany, a century ago, Brooklyn Rider “looks to the past, present and future for inspiration” for the works they perform, according to violinist Colin Jacobsen.
Jacobsen, along with his brother Eric, on cello; Nicholas Cords on viola; and Johnny Gandelsman, also on violin; joined forces about 10 years ago. Since that time they have performed in such prestigious classical music venues as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, as well as at pop music festivals like the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, where they became the first and only classical performers to appear on the SxSW stage in 2010.
As classical music students in the late 1990s and early 2000s — the Jacobsens at Juilliard and Cords and Gandelsman at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music — the four of them had a number of occasions to play together, including with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. From those occasions arose their desire to form their own chamber group, according to Colin Jacobsen.
“We were drawn to each other, not only from a playing perspective, putting our sounds together, but also a desire to have the quartet be a vessel where we could put many passions, including the tradition that is out there, with all the great music from our time. Music from outside the sources of classical world,” Jacobsen explained.
“The other element we love is collaborations,” Jacobsen continued. “We’ve worked with many other people over the years. Just performing or recording with one other person from another tradition or within classical music can bring us into a new world.”
One of Brooklyn Rider’s collaborations was with banjoist Bela Fleck on “Night Flight Over Water,” a piece Fleck performed with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra this past spring. The quartet also has seven other CDs under its own name.
Most of the group’s New Orleans program will consist of relatively short pieces from their most recent album, “The Brooklyn Rider Almanac,” released in September 2014. Compositions by such contemporary composers as Grammy Award-winning guitarist Bill Frisell, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, Dana Lyn, Aoife O’Donovan, Gonzalo Grau and Gabriel Kahane will be showcased.
In the second half of the program, the quartet will perform Schubert’s String Quartet No.13, in A minor, “Rosamunde.”
“We believe in music that a string quartet can do in all of its different forms,” Jacobsen said. “Of course that involves the (classical) tradition, but the way we like to (perform) is to have the pieces on the program have a dialogue with each other. In the world of acoustic music, whether it be classical, folk or pop, there’s a lot of overlap. We believe that a concert experience should have a possibility of changing lives, and hopefully we’re doing that.”