By Anastasia Tsioulcas

Leave it to Brooklyn Rider to re-imagine the first movement with slides that evoke the idea of making effort, failing and striving again — the essence of what makes Beethoven human, and divine.

By Tom Huizenga

The players want to uncover the vocal aspects of Beethoven's music, presenting themselves as singers of a song. It's a bold step that pays off in the expansion of the music's legato lines, in what is a brand-new view of an often-heard piece.

By Ron Schepper

The listener comes away from the performance newly sensitized to (Beethoven's) relevance and greatness, but also impressed by the sincerity of Brooklyn Rider's rendering. That the quartet manages to make the piece sound so fresh and vital speaks volumes about the dedication the group brings to the recording as a whole.

By Andy Horwitz


By Travis Boswell

Some of the most intricate and skillful new music in the genre.


Educational, moving and wildly enjoyable.

By Dante Allington

Seven Steps is an intensely pleasing affair.

TimeOut Chicago
By Brent DiCrescenzo

Rustic, humble and American take on Op. 131; a folkiness... that almost smells of bluegrass."

By Robert Miller

Powerful straight-to-the-heart explosion of force.

By Alan Young

Emotionally intuitive... if there was ever a singleminded interpretation of (Beethoven's opus 131), this is it. One of the most delightfully challenging recordings of the year.

By Jay Harvey


By Jeremy Shatan

(Brooklyn Rider's) commitment to communicating the perpetual freshness of great music (is) blindingly apparent.

By Mike Telin

Most thought-provoking and adventuresome release to date... Seven Steps is an album that should be on everybody’s CD shelf.

By Elena Buckley

Seven Steps engulfs the listener in the music and pure fun of listening to it... a collection of music that not only is performed exquisitely and is exhilarating to listen to, but redefines the aspects of periods. Brooklyn Rider may be creating the new attitude and role of today’s string quartet, but they’re also showing us how to simply listen, without presumption.

By John Terauds

(Brooklyn Rider)... have given the Beethoven quartet an almost mystical presence... Brooklyners somehow manage to stop time... The interpretation of the old piece may not be conventional, but it pulses with deep thought and commitment.

By Anastasia Tsioulcas


By Doyle Armbrust

This is Beethoven through a different lens, reminiscent perhaps of fin de siècle quartets like Capet and Rosé... A wonderful record to challenge seasoned listeners and embrace hesitant newcomers.

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Press for Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass

August 2011
By Laurence Vittes

[5 stars] ... It is hard to overestimate the impact Glass has had on both the listening public and musicians in the new century. These pieces are certain to become staples of the repertoire and Brooklyn Rider's performances will inspire as much as they entertain.

August 3, 2011
By Peter Bates

Even if you're not that keen on Philip Glass—too repetitive, too soporific, sparse variety, thin development—by all means give this disc a listen ... you may find surprises within.

August 18, 2011
By Logan K. Young

That's what these two discs from the well-staffed Brooklyn Rider do—remind the forgetful that, at one time anyway, Philip Glass was revolutionary ... Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violins, Nicholas Cords on the viola and cellist Eric Jacobsen—execute this difficult process music with a watchmaker's precision. You're a fool if you think that playing Glass quartets is any less demanding or taxing than those by Bartók, Elliott Carter or even Helmut Lachenmann. It takes the persistence of a tortoise to play as fast as the hare, and this well-oiled machine of a group has certainly logged some time with the metronome. Specifically, on 1985's String Quartet No. 3 (i.e. the Yukio Mishima one), the Rider runs roughshod over Kronos' earlier, subdued take.

July 2011
By Anastasia Tsioulcas

Brooklyn Rider members prove themselves to be not just open-eared but warmhearted players. One of the most appealing aspects of this survey is their sense of rhythmic play and of texture, particularly considering that Glass is working here on a far more intimately sized scale than in his film scores and symphonies ... Through their exemplary intellectual consideration, richly varied tone and gorgeous use of color and texture, Brooklyn Rider revealed to me far more within Glass' music than I had ever heard before.

June 2011
By Mia Clark

From the first bittersweet sweep of the Suite from "Bent," Brooklyn Rider stakes its claim as stunning interpreters of Glass. On its new double album, the young troupe tackles, with a hypnotic, kaleidoscopic attention to detail, the complete string quartets of Philip Glass, who serves as co-executive producer ... From the first bittersweet sweep of "Bent," Brooklyn Rider strikes a melancholy that alternates between spine-tingling and oddly reassuring.

June 2011
By Tom Huizenga & Anastasia Tsioulcas

One of NPR Classical's Best Albums of the Year (So Far).

June 2011
By Catherine Nelson

Of three new releases of music by American composers written in the last 50 years, a double-disc set from Brooklyn Rider of string quartets by Philip Glass (Orange Mountain Music OMM 0074) stands out for the delicacy of the ensemble, and the sheer beauty of the blend of tone colours. Even Glass-ophobes would be hard pressed not to admire the immaculate and blissfully transparent texture—helped along by the crisp recorded sound—with the players surging and rippling back and forth as they make Glass's distinctive sound world speak ... This is a rewarding, and distinctly different, disc of Glass.

May 6, 2011
By James Bash

There is wondrous variety to be found in this release, each quartet with its own unique character, and Brooklyn Rider has the relentless energy required to sustain interest in the somber, often haunting sound world through which Glass's compositions wander. This release represents another big win from an unconventional and visionary group, and is an important contribution to both string quartet and Philip Glass discography.

March 2011
By Derek Beres

Brooklyn Rider's interpretation of Glass's tense, melancholic vision is a cathartic and delicate masterpiece ... Once again, these four young musicians are proving themselves to be among the most fearless in the classical world today.

March 2011
By Jav Harvey

[Brooklyn Rider] settles into this music. Internal listening rapport is acute. There's a hint of romanticism in Quartet No. 4 ('Buczak'), with a sweet, restrained French influence evident in the second movement ... I may not well understand Glass' music yet, but I found the variety within these string quartets (Suite From 'Bent' and Quartet No. 3 ('Mishima') are the other works in this program) enthralling and the steadiness and richness of BR's tone quality sensuous and invigorating.

February 2011

Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass: A Lush, Rich Treat
"To call cutting-edge string quartet Brooklyn Rider's new album Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass a 'cohesive performance' doesn't remotely do it justice. Other than solo passages, which are relatively few, it is for all intents and purposes impossible to tell the individual players apart. More often than not, the overall sound is like a giant, animated accordion. The players—violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen—don't take their phrasing lightly. Each one digs in with an intensity and a group vision that borders on the telepathic. It's absolutely impossible to think of an ensemble better suited to these attractive, often absolutely beautiful pieces.

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Press for Dominant Curve

December 2010
By Brian Newhouse, APM

50 Favorite Albums of 2010
I love it when an album like this comes along and you can tell immediately—from the playing, from the repertoire, from the engineering—that absolutely nothing was taken for granted. Brooklyn Rider rips through one of the trickiest classical quartets (Debussy's G minor from 1893) and makes it sound easy, but the group has surrounded it with pieces written in the last couple years. My favorite is 'Lydia's Reflection,' by one of the quartet's violinists, Colin Jacobsen—music that's as still and clean as a northern lake at sunrise.

November 2010
By David Kettle

From the stylish CD design to the philosophical booklet notes, I was prepared to dismiss this new disc from New York quartet Brooklyn Rider as style over substance. But in fact, it's a serious and thoughtful disc of contrasting works orbiting Debussy's String Quartet that successfully showcases the ensemble's crisp, clear, well-articulated playing and infectious energy ... The group's reading of the Debussy Quartet may not be to everyone's taste—it's fast, a little breathless, and sometimes slightly strident—but it's hard not to be swept along by the enthusiasm and passion of the quartet's compelling performance.

October 2010
By Greg Cahill

Forgive the hyperbole, but I've seen the future of chamber music and it is Brooklyn Rider, which is to say that this New York–based foursome has the musical ability, the good sense to select great new works, and the artistic vision required to place itself in the same league as the Kronos or Turtle Island quartets.

October 2010
By Laurence Vittes

In Brooklyn Rider's miraculous encounters with music, they stretch established contemporary sound patterns and rhythms for purposes which become apparent only as each listener is wiling to submit. For this new release on their own label, Brooklyn Rider have built a programme around Debussy's iconic String Quartet, embedded rather than leading off, that is both self-referential and rich with history. The result is chamber music simultaneously on a very large scale and an alien sub-atomic landscape, which explores texture and space with scientific determination and a steady artistic temperament ... Although the performance of the Debussy cannot be extracted entirely on its own, it luxuriates in the sinews of youth in a very 21st-century way. The sound is precise and thrilling, raw and slightly sensitive to the touch.

October 2010

If you ever thought classical music was boring, then you probably weren't listening to the right people perform it. The music of Brooklyn Rider is anything but boring. In fact, it's a fantastical journey of sounds and textures and emotions. Their latest recording, Dominant Curve, features works by Debussy as well as pieces by Rider's Colin Jacobsen, John Cage, Kojiro Umezaki, and by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovski. Curve is nothing short of brilliant as it continues the quartet's tradition of somehow capturing the sound of raw emotions.

September 2010
By Rob Haskins

[Achilles' Heel] is resolutely unclassifiable: a little hip, a little coy, a little cerebral, it sounds like music for a young generation of ultra-eclectic artists.

August 27, 2010
By Ham Blatt

These guys are like motocross daredevils who never screw up a stunt. Eventually someone's going to get carried away on a stretcher with a clavicle popping out of their chest, but until then we can all enjoy the show.

June 2010
By Tom Huizenga

Best Music of the Year so Far: Classical
This isn't your grandfather's string quartet. Brooklyn Rider plays some of the standard string-quartet repertoire, but more often than not it performs original compositions or new works, collaborating with a wide array of guest musicians. This CD uses Claude Debussy as a jumping-off point to many interesting places. His string quartet resides at the center of the recording, and around it circles music by Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen, a piece for Japanese flute, another by an Uzbek composer and this marvelous arrangement of John Cage's "In a Landscape." It expands on the original, with layers of electronics and strings that evoke the Chinese sheng (mouth organ) and a hint of glass harmonica. Spacious, rocking and calming.

June 2010
By Mary Kunz Goldman

With praise from the Huffington Post ("excellent") and the Toronto Star ("stunning"), Brooklyn Rider has achieved a unique hipness in the music world.

June 2010

One of The Best Albums of the Year ... So Far.

June 2010
By Joe Tangari

The string quartet Brooklyn Rider is still relatively new ... but they are making a name for themselves. For this kind of group, an easy way with both old and new, composed and improvised, is essential, and Brooklyn Rider has it ... Dominant Curve succeeds in its attempt to bridge a classic work of a great composer with the work of that composer's stylistic descendants. Debussy's music and ideas still hold a lot of creative possibilities today. In performing the work of the man himself, Brooklyn Rider bring the "String Quartet in G Minor" vividly to life. On surrounding pieces, they extend invitations to listeners of modern minimalism and post-rock. With more work like this, Brooklyn Rider seem poised to earn attention on their own terms— regardless of which composers they work with.

May 2010
By Valerie Kahler

If you think you're not a fan of 'new' music, just close your eyes and give this a chance to tell its story ... Percussive, gristly attacks blend seamlessly with soaring melodies and electronic noise in a piece by Kojiro Umezaki, "(Cycles) what falls must rise," written for quartet, electronics and the Japanese bamboo flute, the shakuhachi.

May 2010
Stephen Thompson

Five Albums You Should Be Listening to Right Now
Watching that crowd stand silently in awe when it wasn't roaring appreciatively between songs was truly inspirational, but it also made sense: Great music, after all, is great music.

May 2010
By James Manheim

Best of all, Brooklyn Rider's performance of the Debussy itself achieves the goal of defamiliarizing the work, without which the entire project would founder. They deliver a brisk, punchy reading that sets up the music's rhythmic experiments in an unusual way." [4 out of 5 stars]

NPR All Things Considered
April 2010
By Tom Huizenga

Dominant Curve Featured as one of the best classical CDs of the month: "Brooklyn, Iceland and Outer Space: New Classical CDs"; Classical music is thriving these days, thanks to young, smart musicians who don't always perform in traditional concert halls. Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason recently played a trendy club in New York's Greenwich Village, while the string quartet Brooklyn Rider wowed a crowd of indie-rockers last month at Austin's South by Southwest music festival.

March 2010
By Derek Beres

Listening to Brooklyn Rider's ten-minute electro-acoustic rendition of John Cage's "In a Landscape," written in 1948 for solo piano or harp, is personally more gratifying than watching the man perform on old Youtube clips. Sure, those are essential landmarks, but there is something fuller and rounder about Rider's performance, perhaps equally eerie ... The three-violin and cello combination of Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen, Nicholas Cords, and Eric Jacobsen are well-primed musicians ... Dominant Curve equals the quartet's previous work in intensity and sheer beauty.

March 6, 2010
By Alan Walker

It makes sense that pioneering string quartet Brooklyn Rider would feel close to Debussy, considering their background as classical players who, these days anyway, specialize in world music. The perennially cutting-edge Brooklyn group appear on the latest Silk Road Ensemble album; their first cd included strikingly original arrangements of Armenian folk songs plus a tango by Russian-born violist/composer Ljova. With credits and credentials like that, they hardly need a career boost, but this hypnotically beautiful, stunningly imaginative cross-pollinating work is exactly that.
March 6, 2010
By WNYC's John Schaefer

If Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble was a TV series, then Brooklyn Rider would be the spinoff—the Frasier to Silk Road's Cheers. Having played in the famed cellist's globetrotting world music ensemble, the members of this oddly named string quartet could hardly be expected to confine themselves to playing Haydn and Mozart and Debussy. Their first two albums featured original works, including pieces by the quartet's members and a whole disc done in collaboration with their Silk Road partner Kayhan Kalhor, the master of the Persian fiddle. Now, Brooklyn Rider returns with an even more ambitious and far-ranging disc, built around ... Debussy.

March 2010
By John Teraud

The adventurous, hip string quartet has used the G-minor String Quartet Claude Debussy wrote in 1893 as the hub of their new disc. The spokes are 3 new creations—Achille's Heel, by Colin Jacobsen, "(Cycles) what falls must rise", by Kojiro Umezaki, and " niente", by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovski—and a quartet-plus-electronics arrangement of a modern classic, John Cage's "In a Landscape", originally written for harp or piano in1948. Over the past half-dozen years the quartet has shown incredible energy in promoting new works—an energy that buzzes off this disc. The recorded sound is close and dry, but the precision and control in the playing is stunning. All of the newer pieces are about achieving certain effects—the most successful (and challenging) are Umezaki's atmospheres, which morph into a complex, arresting dance eight minutes in.

March 1, 2010
By Lorin Wilkerson

The NYC based string quartet Brooklyn Rider covers a lot of ground with their newest release from In A Circle Records, Dominant Curve. From Debussy to arrangements of John Cage and featuring compositions by the musicians themselves, Brooklyn Rider shows deep artistic maturity and a spiritual essence bordering on the psychedelic ... Exciting and fresh, Dominant Curve is full of worthwhile new material as well as a valid and imaginative interpretation of the Debussy string quartet.

February 2010
By Derek Beres

Outfits like Brooklyn Rider, and its excellent recent release Dominant Curve, are bringing a much needed fresh image to the Western classical world. The key to the success of any music genre is evolution.

February 2010
By John Schaefer

Soundcheck Pick of the Week.

February 2010
Robert Everett-Green

The three new pieces on this album from the New York-based string quartet Brooklyn Rider do an intriguing dance around the two older ones (Claude Debussy's Quartet in G minor and an arrangement of John Cage's In a Landscape). Achille's Heel, by violinist Colin Jacobsen, engages in a direct four-movement dialogue with Debussy that pays him the compliment of almost never mimicking him. Kojiro Umezaki's (Cycles) what falls must rise is full of auditory depictions of birds and breezes (assisted by shakuhachi and electronics) and a clarity of attitude that Debussy would have understood. Some post-Debussyan touches emerge also in Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky's ... al niente. The Cage arrangement is beautifully cosmic and simple, and there are lovely episodes in the quartet's performance of Debussy.

February 2010
By Peter Margasak

Their superb new record, Dominant Curve (In a Circle), celebrates what they call the "pioneering vision" of Claude Debussy and takes as its centerpiece his String Quartet in G Minor, which he wrote four years after he first heard Javanese gamelan music at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889—the harmonic experiments in that composition set in motion ripples of influence still felt today.

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Press for Silent City

January 23, 2009
By Joe Tangari

Kayhan Kalhor is a Kurdish Iranian master of Persian music and one of the greatest living players of the kamancheh, a four-stringed, upright Persian fiddle that's tuned like a violin but has a darker tone; Brooklyn Rider is a young American string quartet in the tradition of the Kronos and Balanescu Quartets. Together, their repertoire is a mixture of classic string pieces, modern compositions, and originals composed by one of the group's violinists, Colin Jacobsen, and fleshed out by a talented bunch, equally comfortable improvising and playing complex arrangements as they are performing in concert halls and small rock clubs.

Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider met as members of Yo-Yo Ma's ambitious Silk Road Ensemble, a project seeking to unite the vast range of musical traditions along the historic trade route in a way that preserves each one but casts it in the context of something broad and modern. They continue in that spirit on Silent City, finding common ground between Persian folk and modern minimalism. The album's two short pieces, "Ascending Bird" and "Parvaz", bridge those genres directly, the former by adapting a piece of folk music, and the latter by retelling the same legend with a new composition by Kalhor. "Ascending Bird" balances slow and deliberate phrases from the quartet, with Kalhor's warm, searching kamancheh and frenzied santur (Persian hammer dulcimer) from guest Siamak Aghaei. Percussionist Mark Suter and double bassist Jeff Beecher are also on hand to widen the aural palette.

Colin Jacobsen's "Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged" fuses a passage inspired by the Central-Asian Romeo & Juliet story Layla & Majnun with a 14th-century Italian song, beginning with a long, solemn meditation on the latter before swelling and finally bursting into its rhythmic second half. Engineer Jody Elff has brilliantly captured the detail and dynamic depth of the group, and this is most apparent on the half-hour centerpiece, Kalhor's magnificent composition "Silent City". It begins nearly inaudible, with a slow improvisation that gradually grows to a heaving, jaw-dropping climax around the 17-minute mark, only to break back down to an aching, kamancheh-led passage. Where the first climax comes with a sudden shift from dissonance to gorgeous consonance, the second is a cathartic, celebratory dance movement, with Suter returning to percussion.

Silent City has something for nearly everyone—classical music fans will appreciate the fine quality of the playing, world music aficionados will enjoy the cross-cultural currents, and it's very easy to see kids reared on post-rock and miminalist electronic music feeling at home here (if you've ever liked anything released on Kranky, you're almost certain to enjoy this). Experimentalism is always more rewarding when it leads to resounding emotional depth, and this is as good an example as you'll find of a group of musicians achieving that ideal balance.

November 2008
By Anastacia Tsioulcas

A US-Iranian collaboration shows the musical riches that both cultures can share.

It is an age of overheated political polemics zinging back and forth between the US and Iran. Relief comes, though, in the form of a new collaboration between Kayhan Kalhor, an avowed master of Persian music, and the young and adventurous string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider: violinist Colin Jacobsen and his cellist brother Eric, violinist Jonathan Gandelsman and viola-player Nicholas Cords.

Perhaps the artistic distance is not too far to tread. Kalhor plays the upright four-stringed and bowed spiked fiddle called the kamancheh, an instrument with an extremely warm and nearly human voice. Its kinship with modern European string instruments, not to mention older ones like the rebec, is obvious. But it tkaes gifted and committed collaborators to fully realise that relationship, and these musicians' superbly conceived, organically evolved, and wonderfully rich recent collaboration, an album for the Harmonia Mundi imprint World Village called "Silent City", is proof of both their personal dedication and artistic insights...

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By John Schaefer

You can justifiably call this cross-cultural effort a spinoff of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project. The string quartet with the quixotic name Brooklyn Rider consists of musicians who first met each other, and Persian fiddler Kayhan Kalhor, while working in Ma's globetrotting world/chamber music ensemble. Kalhor is a master of the kamancheh, the spike fiddle of Persian classical music, and has become a primary composer for the Silk Road albums. On "Silent City" he and his Brooklyn-based colleagues draw freely on their shared loves of traditional Central Asian music and improvisation—which sounds like a recipe for a mushy, politically correct album of Classical Lite. Instead, the album sounds like the next step in an evolution that comes from the tradition of Béla Bartók, who tramped around the Hungarian and Romanian countryside in the early 20th century, recording folk songs and dances and incorporating them into his own string pieces.

In addition to the bowed Western and Persian strings, Silent City also features bass and percussion, and the combination is used to good effect on the opening cut, "Ascending Bird," an exotic yet accessible work that wouldn't disappoint fans of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." Each of the four tracks offers something slightly different, from the haunted introspection of the title track, to the plucked sounds of the Iranian setar (a lute that is the ancestor of India's sitar) on "Parvaz," to the gradually building, almost trance-like ecstasy of the epic "Beloved, do not let me be discouraged." It's not Persian classical music, and you could reasonably ask if it's Western classical music either—but part of Brooklyn Rider's mission seems to be to suggest that we redefine what "Western classical music" means in the 21st century.

Autumn 2008
By Derek Beres

The title track of this four-song recording clues you in it's nearly silent for a minute, and the slow build of violins, cello, viola and the Persian spiked fiddle, or kamancheh, takes the listener on an absolutely spellbinding tour of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. Thematically and sonically the music revolves around the theme that life always returns, and indeed the playing is a circular affair. After an intense climax, Kayhan Kalhor reintroduces his kamancheh in the seventeenth minute, and one is instantly transported to the dreamlike realm that made his work with Ghazal, The Masters of Persian Music, and with vocalists Ali Akbar Moradi and Mohammad Reza Shahjarian so special. There are few musicians like him—the very reason that the quartet Brooklyn Rider brought him in for this collaboration. All five men met during the initial recordings of YoYo Ma's ambitious Silk Road Project in 2000. The New York City-based foursome joined forces at this time, and stayed in touch with one of Iran's most respected artists. Brooklyn Rider themselves are worthy of praise violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, viola player Nicholas Cords, and cellist Eric Jacobsen play with as much passion and integrity as anyone. It is, for the most part, a quiet record, though when Kayhor picks up the stringed setar, a flurry of notes and pictures emerge on "Parvaz," a musical retelling of the Persian legend Ascending Bird (which is the name of the first track). Mythology is a central focus on the entire album, even on the closing "Beloved, do not let me be discouraged," in which human love is transported to the lair of the divine. It is a fitting metaphor for this record at large, in which five players (and their guests on bass, santur, bodhran, etc.) have created something lasting and meaningful—about the most divine gift one can leave for the world.

September 9, 2008

Kayhan Kalhor is having a hard time doing anything wrong right now: pretty much everything the renowned Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) player touches turns into something magical. Like most of his contemporaries, Kalhor delights in cross-cultural collaboration, and this latest cd, created with inventive string quartet Brooklyn Rider is typical. Brisk, bracing, exhilarating and often wrenchingly haunting, it's a spectacularly successful achievement. It's less an attempt to blend East and West than simply a collaboration between friends. Kalhor – founder of the Dastan Ensemble, Ghazal Ensemble and Masters of Persian Music -  has two lengthy compositions here, playing kamancheh and also santur (a four-string lute) on his own darkly rustling retelling of the Persian flight myth, Parvaz. Fascinatingly arranged by maverick violist/composer Ljova, its recurrent refrains slowly builds, inexorably gaining intensity.

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October 2008
By Charles de Ledesma

Top of the World

There are many ways you might have encountered Kayhan Kalhor’s music. An undisputed master of the kamancheh (spiked fiddle), Kalhor helped fuse Persian folk and classical music with Indian raga on Ghazal’s four CDs and is a founder of cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s incredible Silk Road Project. Here he pushes the boat out even further, joining ultra-contemporary US string quartet Brooklyn Rider for a sublime set of stunning new music.

Kalhor, who is Iranian, met the Rider foursome at a Silk Road Project workshop in the US in 2000. One inspiring visit to Iran later and Silent City began to evolve. Bassist Jeff Beecher, percussionist Mark Suter and santur player Siamak Aghaei were added to the line-up for the four tracks – one of which, the extended title-track, developed out of a live US performance in 2005. Whilst this piece has complex, contrasting movements – from racy string sections to panoramic ambient drones – it’s the other shorter pieces which work best on CD, literally raising the hairs on the back of the neck.

Silent City kicks off at a breathless pace on ‘Ascending Bird’, where Kalhor’s kamancheh holds its own among the twin violinists, Colin Jacobsen and Jonathan Gandelsman. ‘Parvaz’ and ‘Beloved’ are less racy, but, if anything, even more beautiful with Kalhor’s lute-like setar hypnotic on the former and the Rider quartet working as a single, pulsing musical membrane on the latter. This is outstanding, unforgettable music, overlapping East and Western classical and folk modes in a wonder of world fusion.

September 2, 2008
By Steve Hochman

There are several intriguing angles one could take regarding Silent City, a new album combining the talents of Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor with the adventurous American string quartet Brooklyn Rider. An outgrowth of the musicians' experience as part of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble recordings and tours, this album comes at a time of ever-increasing tensions and rhetoric between the two countries' governments, a time when suspicion seems to trump reason and a time when more and more artists are seen as ambassadors of their cultures. And the title piece is emotionally stunning, a 29-minute musical Guernica, a threnody for the Kurdish village Hallabja that suffered the 1988 chemical weapons attack by Iraq that left 5,000 dead.

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August 26, 2008
By Vivien Schweitzer

A Master Iranian Musician Plays Cultural Ambassador

In Silent City, a hypnotic work commemorating Halabjah, a Kurdish village annihilated by Saddam Hussein, the kamancheh, an upright four-stringed Persian fiddle, breaks out in a lamenting wail based on a traditional Turkish melody.

Silent City is included on a new disc of the same name on the World Village label, which Kayhan Kalhor, a virtuoso kamancheh player, recorded with the young string quartet Brooklyn Rider.

The work opens with a desolate murmuring improvised by the strings, eerily evoking the swirling dust of barren ruins, with a Kurdish melody heralding the rebuilding of the destroyed village. It has a particular resonance for Mr. Kalhor, 45, who was born in Tehran to a family of Kurdish descent. The sound of the kamancheh is “warm and very close to the human voice,” he said by phone from Tehran, where he now lives.

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August 14, 2008
By Greg Cahill

Spins of the Week

Reminiscent of the more established but no less adventurous Turtle Island and Kronos quartets, Brooklyn Rider is a gifted string quartet that mixes the classics with the contemporary to create music that is emotionally exhilarating and intellectually stimulating.

The quartet—Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violins; Nicholas Cords, viola; Eric Jacobsen, cello—is capable of creating a lush reading of Debussy's String Quartet in G minor one moment and an electrifying chamber-jazz spin on rock en español experimentalists Café Tacuba the next. That latter tune, "La Muerte Chiquita," arranged by contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, appears on Passport, one of the year's best chamber-music recordings. It is matched by five scintillating arrangements of Armenian folk songs, a pair of songs by the Russian violist and composer Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin, and a single original composition by Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen.

This is some of the most vibrant music I've heard this year, of any genre, and it arrives from a group that's been waiting in the wings for a few years. The notion that Brooklyn Rider has arrived is supported by the simultaneous release of Silent City, their stunning collaboration with Kurdish-Iranian kamancheh, or spike-fiddle, master Kayhan Kalhor. The group's rich timbre and ability to handle the demands of Kahlor's portamento-laden Persian modes and shifting tempos makes this challenging music a real thrill ride. Obviously, the group's longtime association with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble (they've participated in three Sony Classical recordings with that ensemble) has helped prepare the Brooklyn Rider for this stunning world-music summit meeting. Highly recommended.

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Press for Passport

By Shulamit Kleinerman

From the ensemble's name, you'd never know they're a classical string quartet. It's all part of the boundary-defying venture of these four innovative young players, who in addition to maintaining a claim on the mainstream classical repertoire have worked together on cross-cultural, cross-genre projects such as Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. They're hip in a geeky Brooklyn way (suspenders, facial hair). They're passionate and knowledgeable about art: their ensemble's name makes reference to the Blue Rider group in expressionist painting nearly a century ago. They do shows in clubs, galleries, and the occasional Buddhist temple. Everyone but the cellist plays standing up, and when the music calls for it, they dig into their instruments with the exuberance of racehorses let out of the barn.

The quartet's repertoire runs to new music with world-music flavors. Passport opens with an arrangement of five Armenian folk songs. One is broad and muscular, Copland for the South Caucasus; another is an elusive old-world sing-song. The thirteen-minute album centerpiece, second violinist Colin Jacobsen's "Brooklesca," begins with one of the most exhilarating half-minutes of chamber music I've heard. A touch of percussion sharpens the groove that's already there. The highlight of Passport is its last two tracks, by composer and fellow adventurous string player Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin. On "Crosstown," the upper strings ride a slinky plucked cello ostinato into a landscape of almost embarrassingly rich harmonies, vista after vista unfolding. The string quartet is traveling well in the 21st century, and you don't even need a classical-music passport to rock out with this one.

By Jack Rabid

Music With Heart

After 20 soundalike indie rock bands (mediocre songwriting, too!), I popped this in and found myself menaced by an aggressive string quartet. Yipe! Now we're talking! This is not mainstream classical music or lite FM muzak. It's grabbing, cunningly confrontational chamber music like a horror movie tragedy score. Its tones evoke danger, pity, fear, and empathy, the violins, viola, and cello sharp as knives twisting and slithering like snakes, or plucking furtively like burglars sneaking past a sleeping dog. This natty Brooklyn quartet will soon tackle Phillip Glass ... I liked this a lot, seeing movies in my head everywhere.

December 9, 2008
By Fred Child

Invoking Improv: Best Classical CDs of 2008

A composer writes the notes; musicians play the notes.

That's the current arrangement in the world of classical music, but it wasn't always so. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart were great composers, but they were also master improvisers. For centuries, it was a given that if you played music well, you improvised well.

Improvisation is now making a comeback in certain corners of the classical world. Some who play music from the 17th and 18th centuries have revived the tradition of improvising around what the composer wrote. And some young classical musicians who grew up with jazz, rock and world music feel as comfortable with improv as they do with interpretation.

Here are some of the choice 2008 classical CDs that include improvisation—or at least invoke its sound.

Artist: Brooklyn Rider
Album: Passport

A young string quartet from Brooklyn, all classically trained to within an inch of their lives, Brooklyn Rider also tours with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road project, gathering influences and inspiration from around the world. This wildly eclectic CD reflects its members' omnivorous tastes: haunting Armenian laments, Osvaldo Golijov's arrangement of a lovely ballad by the Mexican art-rock band Cafe Tacuba, and the driving Gypsy-inflected improvisations of Colin Jacobsen's tour de force "Brooklesca." Brooklyn Rider is recreating the 300-year-old form of string quartet as a vital and creative 21st-century ensemble.

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November 4, 2008

Adventurous string quartet Brooklyn Rider have just released one of the year’s finest albums, Silent City (reviewed here recently), with brilliant Iranian composer/kamancheh (spike fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor. In addition to that cd, this strikingly original, melodically rich and beautifully recorded collection showcases the group playing arrangements of dark Armenian folk songs as well as an original and two brief pieces by noted violist/composer Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin (also very recently reviewed here). It should resonate equally well with rock and world music audiences as well as classical fans: there’s literally something for everyone here.

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By Justin Davidson

Those of us who remember when portable music meant a shoulder-mounted boom box might also recall a time when the Kronos Quartet were the only string quartet to play music from territories west of Los Angeles, east of the Volga or south of the Mediterranean. The machines have shrunk, but string quartets have expanded their territory. Today's young ensembles don't even need to plunge into global internationalism; they've grown out of it.

The string quartet Brooklyn Rider came together for Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, so its interests lie well beyond the borough. Its first recording was Silent City, a bewitching collaboration with the Persian fiddler Kayhan Kalhor.

Passport, the group's almost contemporaneous second disc, is just as itinerant and equally seductive. It makes a fairly random assortment of cultural stops, from Yerevan to Mexico City to Forest Hills, Queens, all linked by a distinctive Brooklyn swing. The album opens with a suite of Armenian folk songs transcribed for string quartet by the priestly ethnomusicologist Komitas Vardapet and performed with muscular conviction and fragile wistfulness. It feels like a small hop to "La Muerte Chiquita," a ballad by the Mexican pop band Café Tacuba, which the composer Osvaldo Golijov has transformed through the application of perfumed lyricism and whispering harmonics.

The players of Brooklyn Rider are also members of an elastic society of New York-based musicians who treat the world's musical traditions as if they were separated by little more than a couple of subway stops. Another fellow traveler is Ljova, a violist and composer who specializes in what might be termed Eastern-European avant-folk and who wrote "Crosstown," a lovely nocturne with a plaintive sax-like solo above a bluesy plucked bass.

But the disc's keystone work is the 14-minute "Brooklesca" by the group's violinist Colin Jacobsen. It has the feeling of a shape-shifting, key-switching, rhythm-bending jam session, shot through with Persian motifs and Gypsy bravura. The beat is rock & roll-solid, the improvisational style elastic and relaxed, and the inventiveness assured. Jacobsen and his quartet mates play it as if the music were in their blood stream, or at least in the atmosphere of their heterogeneous borough.

August 14, 2008
By Greg Cahill

Spins of the Week

Reminiscent of the more established but no less adventurous Turtle Island and Kronos quartets, Brooklyn Rider is a gifted string quartet that mixes the classics with the contemporary to create music that is emotionally exhilarating and intellectually stimulating.

The quartet—Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violins; Nicholas Cords, viola; Eric Jacobsen, cello—is capable of creating a lush reading of Debussy's String Quartet in G minor one moment and an electrifying chamber-jazz spin on rock en español experimentalists Café Tacuba the next. That latter tune, "La Muerte Chiquita," arranged by contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, appears on Passport, one of the year's best chamber-music recordings. It is matched by five scintillating arrangements of Armenian folk songs, a pair of songs by the Russian violist and composer Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin, and a single original composition by Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen.

This is some of the most vibrant music I've heard this year, of any genre, and it arrives from a group that's been waiting in the wings for a few years. The notion that Brooklyn Rider has arrived is supported by the simultaneous release of Silent City, their stunning collaboration with Kurdish-Iranian kamancheh, or spike-fiddle, master Kayhan Kalhor. The group's rich timbre and ability to handle the demands of Kahlor's portamento-laden Persian modes and shifting tempos makes this challenging music a real thrill ride. Obviously, the group's longtime association with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble (they've participated in three Sony Classical recordings with that ensemble) has helped prepare the Brooklyn Rider for this stunning world-music summit meeting. Highly recommended.

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Ensemble & Concert Reviews

January 27, 2013
By Stephen Brookes

For String Quartet, Diversity Begets Diversity

A wildly eclectic audience packed the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Saturday night as the classical-music cognoscenti sat cheek-by-aging-jowl with high school students and hipsters. But that’s to be expected in a concert by Brooklyn Rider, a young, adventurous string quartet devoted to keeping the traditional quartet repertoire alive while dragging the form — kicking and screaming, if necessary — into this century’s anything-goes postmodern world.

What makes the members of Rider particularly interesting is how they draw out the almost neural connections between composers and artists of different eras. Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1 in E-flat, Op. 12 (an unabashedly romantic work), opened the evening, and the Riders gave it an extremely warm, glowing reading — maybe a bit smudgy in the details and lacking in bite, but deeply involving nonetheless. Their real point, however, was to underscore the ties between Mendelssohn and Beethoven — and then between Beethoven and such modern composers as John Zorn, whose quietly searing “Kol Nidre” and a stunning quartet from 2011 drew overtly from Beethoven’s quartets.

That kind of interconnectivity was the hallmark of the performance. Composer Christina Courtin drew on Stravinsky’s neoclassical period for her charming, dancelike “tralala,” and Dana Lyn was inspired by the visual artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles for her “Maintenance Music,” which used sliding microtones and jagged, repeated motifs to atmospheric (if slightly queasy) effect. The snapping fingers, stomping feet and final leap into the air of Vijay Iyer’s jazzy “Dig the Say” echoed the great James Brown, and Colin Jacobsen’s “Three Miniatures for String Quartet” created lush, Persian-flavored sound-gardens of extraordinary beauty.

But it was the two works by Zorn that — to these ears, anyway — really made the night. Zorn is one of the most imaginative and prodigiously gifted composers of any era, and his quartet “The Alchemist” is, simply put, a masterpiece — an absolute tour de force. Explosively inventive, deeply human, utterly fascinating from first note to last, the work is built around the theme of Beethoven’s famous Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, but takes it into freewheeling new realms.

The Riders — clearly committed to the work — gave it a breathtaking performance.

December 5, 2012
By William Robin

Brooklyn Rider Makes It New

Few ensembles embody Ezra Pound's 1934 modernist maxim "Make It New" as wholeheartedly as the string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Adept in playing everything from Beethoven to Roma improvisations to Philip Glass, Brooklyn Rider has been transforming the old into the new for nearly a decade.

Last month, as part of the year-long Carolina Performing Arts festival The Rite of Spring at 100, celebrating the centenary of Igor Stravinsky's ballet, the quartet curated a program centered around Pound's famous phrase. With modernist classics by Stravinsky and Bartók, a recent work by composer Gabriel Kahane, and three world premieres by free-jazz maven John Zorn, singer-songwriter Shara Worden (better known as My Brightest Diamond), and Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen, the concert unleashed a marathon of newness.

It was a sensational evening, concluding with Jacobsen's Chalk and Soot, based on Wassily Kandinsky's 1912 avant-garde poem Klänges ("Sounds"). Choreographer John Heginbotham created a series of uncanny images with his company Dance Heginbotham, and Worden sang Jacobsen's setting of Kandinsky's mysterious text -- her own piece for Brooklyn Rider, Disconnect, Delay, Lean and Release, was intriguingly embedded within Jacobsen's work.

October 25, 2012
By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Unlocking the Old Chamber

"Make it new!" was the battle cry with which the poet Ezra Pound pushed for a modernism that remained true to the great art of the past. It's also the motto of Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet comprising violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and Mr. Jacobsen's brother, Eric, on cello. The group advocates a new kind of "porous" chamber music that is open to influences from other art forms.

True to Brooklyn's locavore culture, there is another motto that Mr. Cords throws out half-jokingly over a breakfast of French toast with mascarpone and berries, served up by Eric Jacobsen in the ground-floor apartment of a Windsor Terrace brownstone he shares with his brother: "local and organic."

In the coming weeks, the group will present several world premieres of works commissioned from, or devised in collaboration with, artists from a wide range of disciplines—many of them fellow Brooklynites.

On Thursday, Brooklyn Rider shares the stage at Zankel Hall with Ditmas Park-based singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane and indie-rock vocalist Shara Worden; November brings the quartet to Connecticut, Vermont and Florida with music by Vijay Iyer, and then to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where it will pair string quartets by Stravinsky and Bartók with new works by John Zorn, Ms. Worden and the quartet's own Colin Jacobsen.

The ensemble's collaborative zeal, like its name, pays homage to the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) artists' collective active in pre-Weimar Germany. The movement included painters Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Gabriele Münter and published, in 1912, an almanac that included criticism by Arnold Schoenberg and music by Alexander Scriabin.

"What we admire about that group is the sense of the cross-disciplinary artistic collective," Mr. Cords said. "This is what we stand for in what we do creatively. We belong to a group of friends who do many things: dancers and artists and choreographers and film makers. Those are conversations we really love to engage in, and do collaborative projects that get us outside of a two-dimensional concert experience."

Colin Jacobsen said that his new composition for the quartet, which will feature Ms. Worden's vocals and movement by John Heginbotham, a dancer with the Mark Morris Dance Group, is inspired by an illustrated book of woodcuts and engravings by Kandinsky called "Sounds." But the most overt reference to the Blaue Reiter is the Brooklyn Rider Almanac, which the ensemble is compiling from composers outside the classical realm; it will be published and performed early next year. Among the contributors lined up are Greg Saunier of the band Deerhoof; Padma Newsome, formerly of the National; and Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus.

"The image one often has of a string quartet is of a very intimate, almost insular, conversation, a really protective relationship," Mr. Cords said. "We have responded to that by stepping outside of it and inverting that relationship. The string quartet is infinitely porous in terms of the influences it can absorb."

As part of cellist Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, all four members of Brooklyn Rider have had extensive opportunities to broaden their musical horizons. They say their collaborations with musicians from non-Western traditions—in particular Persian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, with whom the quartet has recorded an album—enrich their interpretation of the standard repertoire.

"It might be something as specific as referencing Kayhan's bowing style in a Beethoven string quartet," said Colin Jacobsen.

But more often it's a matter of "going deeper by going outside" of a given tradition, a concept that keeps coming up in conversation. "Sometimes it's almost a game to get yourself out of the groove, out of your comfort level," said Eric Jacobsen. "To open the door and the windows so that you can possibly bring that open spirit back into the work."

In concerts and recordings, the ensemble invites listeners to join in the sense of exploration. This year's recording of Beethoven's monumental seven-movement string quartet Op. 131, "seven steps" features compositions by Colin Jacobsen and Christopher Tignor. "Dominant Curve," released in 2010, presents Debussy's string quartet alongside music by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, Kojiro Umezaki and John Cage.

In Debussy, the members of Brooklyn Rider see a kindred spirit. "There is this great quote of his that we use a lot: 'pleasure is the law,'" said Eric Jacobsen. "He came from this rigorous conservatoire background. He saw the past, in the form of Palestrina, performed again for the first time in centuries. He saw the Javanese gamelan at the 1889 World Fair in Paris. His music was the marriage of training and open ears to the world, and that's a good model for us."

July 8, 2009
By Kyle MacMillan

String Quartet Produces Knock-Out

Brooklyn Rider's name suggests an indie-rock or jazz group, and that's the point. The string quartet has made its name by bucking convention—traversing musical boundaries, crossing cultural divides and embracing the new. It thrives on the unexpected, and that sense of adventure was continuously on exhibit during its knock-out concert Tuesday evening at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder.

Even when playing a work by a classical mainstay, such as Claude Debussy, as it did to open the concert, it breaks from the usual. Instead of a common chamber work by the French composer, it performed a string-trio version of four sections from "Children's Corner," a solo piano piece dedicated to his daughter. Quickly demonstrating their classical chops, the three musicians offered an involved, suitably dynamic performance, making the most of violist Nicholas Cords' superb arrangement.

Besides the uncommon passion and energy that Brooklyn Rider brings to its playing, the young, all-male ensemble won over the audience with its informal demeanor, contemporary vibe and easy spontaneity.

It performed at least one work publicly for the first time Tuesday, and it significantly altered the program because one of its violinists, whose girlfriend is about to have a baby, could not make the trip. Without seeming the least bit bothered by such a last-minute change in plans, it invited two regular collaborators to join the group—bassist Jeffrey Beecher and pipa player Wu Man. Wu Man has done as much as anyone to transform the pipa, an ancient kind of Chinese lute, into a viable concert instrument. She became the star of the evening, with her extraordinary virtuosity and affable stage presence. She joined violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen in arguably the concert's highlight: "Ning," by Chen Yi, one of the now-famous Chinese composers to emerge after the Cultural Revolution. This riveting, at times intense, work manages to be alternately explosive, bleak and penetratingly poignant.

Much of the rest of the program was devoted to other internationally flavored works, offering a fresh, appealing take on what classical music can be in the 21st century.

June 2, 2009
By Allan Kozinn

Where There Was Once a Festival, a Marathon Continues to Run

In its early years in the late 1980s, the Bang on a Can Marathon was tough to characterize succinctly because there had never been anything quite like it. Not the isolated event it is now, it was the highlight of a festival that took over clubs and theaters in Greenwich Village for a couple of weeks, offering newly commissioned works, local premieres of scores that had made waves elsewhere, and certified modern classics by the likes of Harry Partch and John Cage. That was the festival; the marathon was just (a lot) more of it.

Given the festival’s downtown setting and sensibility, its programming leaned toward Minimalism and its precedents and offshoots. But atonal works (if rarely outright serialism) turned up too. So did various flavors of world music, jazz and the artier side of rock. And since boundary-skirting was important to all three of Bang on a Can’s founders—the composers Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe and David Lang—works fusing these styles were often the marathons' anchors.

This year's marathon offered works by 28 composers on Sunday, from noon to just past midnight, at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan. Like the last several, it was presented as a free concert, part of the River to River Festival. Early in the day listeners came and went, but by 5 p.m. the center's atrium (which holds 2,000) was packed, and it remained so to the end.

...Particularly pleasing among the American works was Evan Ziporyn's "Sulvasutra," a three-movement Silk Road of sorts: scored for string quartet, pipa and tabla, it was given a magnificently vital performance by Brooklyn Rider, Wu Man and Sandeep Das.

April 29th, 2009

A String Quartet that Thrives on Cross-Culturalism

Audacious, informal, and energetic, Brooklyn Rider performs music that is not only cross-cultural but also cross-genre. The string quartet is named after the city in which it is based—quite fitting, considering the fact that Brooklyn is most famous for its vibrant multicultural background. On Monday, February 16th, the quartet gave a relaxed concert in FUEL, a trendy lounge in the basement of the Collis Center. Performing pieces that range from Franz Schubert and Philip Glass to Mexican rock and gypsy folk music, Brooklyn Rider seems to value pure musical enjoyment over technical prowess.

That night in FUEL, the quartet played seven extremely diverse pieces that were (paradoxically) united by a theme of cross-culturalism. After all the pieces had been performed, I was confused by the strange amalgam, but astounded by the sheer energy that the musicians had channeled. I was also amazed by the ease with which the musicians were able to shift from piece to piece (genre to genre, culture to culture, etc.) so seamlessly, as if no transition were taking place at all. After the concert, Johnny Gandelsman, the first violinist, was sure to explain the incongruousness of the repertoire that we had just heard. "This music," he told us, "is so diverse, but [it] has no boundaries." Only then was it apparent that the pieces were united by the diversity itself. Switching from traditional Japanese flute music to a jazzy blues melody was just as easy as walking from the Irish side of the street to the Jewish side of the street in Brooklyn, New York. The transitions were not meant to be jarring, but liberating.

The first piece of the night was called "Brooklesca," which—judging from a quick glance at Brooklyn Rider's website—is one of their most popular pieces. The piece, written by second violinist Colin Jacobsen, is a fast and vigorous adventure that combines gypsy themes, Spanish motifs, and American "hillbilly" fiddle, all in a vaguely classical milieu. Although that may sound confusing, the piece came together as a heart-pounding masterpiece, much of which was improvised. During one of Gandelsman's improvised solos, the cellist (Eric Jacobsen) even cracked a giggle! ... The second piece was Philip Glass's Company. Despite its repetitiveness, the musicians made it remarkably dynamic and gave it direction without taking too much artistic freedom. The next piece was a somber theme in variations by Schubert, which completely changed the mood ... Next, the quartet played "La Muerte Chiquita", a tune made popular by a Mexican rock band. Full of glissandos, heavy pizzicatos, and percussive tapping, the piece had a spirited attitude. The fifth piece was a collaboration with shakuhachi player, Kojiro Umezaki. Despite my initial disbelief, the string instruments blended perfectly with the traditional Japanese flute, mostly through call-and-response imitation. Even though Umezaki frequently improvised and made great use of microtones (in between the notes of the normal tonal scale) the string players were able to copy him flawlessly. The concert ended with a piece written by Gandelsman's cousin, called Crosstown, a mimetic representation of a bus ride through Brooklyn, plagued by traffic and constant honking. As expected, the piece was comedically excruciating and playfully discordant, full of false starts and random changes in tempo. The piece was folksy and lyrical, and included Umezaki at one point as well...

By constantly experimenting with their instruments and playing music from all around the world, the quartet embodies the cross-culturalism of Brooklyn with avant-garde flair.

April 5, 2009
By John Payne

Live Review: Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider at UCLA's Royce Hall

Laying bare the links and contrasts between the traditional music of Persia and the modernist leanings of the Euro-American chamber ensemble, the Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) master Kayhan Kalhor was joined Saturday night at UCLA's Royce Hall by contemporary classical string quartet Brooklyn Rider.

Along with his border-crossing collaborations with the Kronos Quartet, Kalhor, of Kurdish descent, has earned acclaim for his alliances with Persian and Indian musicians in the Ghazal ensemble. He met the members of Brooklyn Rider when both became involved in Yo-Yo Ma's collaborative and charitable Silk Road Project in 2000. The partnership between Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider resulted in "Silent City," a 2008 album released on Harmonia Mundi's World Village label, and one that illustrated their mutual affinity for a gently experimental blending of seemingly disparate musical traditions.

The UCLA performance opened with a Persian traditional song called "Ascending Bird," arranged by Brooklyn Rider's Colin Jacobsen with noted santur musician Siamak Aghaei. Its complex layers of overlapping strings and coiling, vocal-like kamancheh—with a distant pitter-patter of hand percussion—conjured a vivid flight out of, perhaps, nocturnal quietude toward a shimmering, golden sun. Kalhor's "Parvaz" offered super-refined flickering tones enmeshed with the string ensemble's sinuous yet more strident strokes, producing a thrillingly opaque field of string sound.

Brooklyn Rider's core quartet presented a lusciously harmonized set of Armenian folk songs by Vartabed Komitas, performing several short, sweet works ranging in mood from the plaintive and coy to the mystical. The fruity, almost opulent sound of these songs felt simultaneously antiquated and modern, and suggested melodic and harmonic links between the regional traditions of Armenia, Iran and Turkey, along with the graceful impressionism of Western European composers such as Ravel and Debussy.

Kayhan and the ensemble also performed Jacobsen's "Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged" and "Brooklesca," the former based on Fuzuli's 16th-century Turkic poem about ill-fated lovers and containing melodic references to the songs of 14th-century Italian troubadours ... [The pieces] were further enlightened by fusions of far-flung traditions.

Commemorating Halabja, a Kurdish village in Iraq destroyed in the Iran-Iraq war by Iraqi forces, the evening's centerpiece was Kalhor's Silent City, a mysterious, slowly evolving piece shrouded in stillness and cleverly colored by Kalhor and the string players' technique of simulating echo/reverb effects. A protracted, semi-improvised opening lament created a hovering, ruminatory air that gained not only a tension, but also a growing anticipation, eventually breaking out in a jubilant twine of tones exploding in all directions. It suggested the dawn of a new, better life.

December 10–11, 2008

Brooklyn Rider at Barbes

Playing to a standing-room crowd in the back room of a Brooklyn bar, innovative string quartet Brooklyn Rider delivered a riveting, intense performance of some impressively eclectic material ranging from traditional Iranian and Armenian folksongs to classical and contemporary compositions. As visceral and intense as most of the set was, and as ever-present as the temptation to simply cut loose and go for the jugular must have been, the quartet managed to stay within themselves, maintaining a remarkable restraint and an uncannily subtle sense of dynamics. This made the crescendos—and there were a whole lot of them—all the more exhilarating.

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December 7, 2008
By Justin Davidson

The Top Ten Classical Events
#6. Brooklyn Rider at the Brooklyn Lyceum

The borough’s chief string quartet teamed up with the Iranian fiddler Kayhan Kalhor for one of those cross-cultural evenings that might have made no sense at all but instead displayed a loose, magical logic. One of the quartet’s inaugural pair of CDs—titled Passport—captures some but not all of that night’s meandering beauties.

January 27, 2008
By Justin Davidson

In Small New-Music Venues, Failure is an Option—and a Route to Success

On my first visit to the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope, Fourth Avenue had reached that unique pitch of joylessness characteristic of a dismal urban artery on a rainy winter night. A sign in front of a closed auto-parts store flickered in the downpour, and passing cars slung their wakes against the occasional pedestrian. The Lyceum showed every one of its hundred years, but it was full of people happy to be hearing music they didn’t already know. Outside, the building still sports the markers of its former life as a public bath: women over one door, men on the other, and up near the cornice a flow of stylized water done in terra-cotta tiles. The cavernous interior has been scraped back to bare brick and given over to a mostly local assortment of live art and movies. On that night, hundreds packed in to hear the Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor and his cross-cultural partners, the string quartet called Brooklyn Rider.

The concert opened with a short set by Zulal, an a cappella trio of Armenian-American women who refract ancestral folk songs through the prism of the collegiate close-harmony group, and do so to spectacular effect. Then it was on to Iran, where violinist Colin Jacobsen had traveled, collecting melodies and arranging them for string quartet, in the spirit of the composer-ethnologist Béla Bartók. Kalhor eventually emerged to play his own piece for quartet and kamancheh, a Persian fiddle. Silent City began with a quiet, amorphous buzzing that gradually thickened and acquired urgency, its repetitive shivers intensifying into a fortissimo throb. That broke off, and the kamancheh wandered plaintively and alone into the still night, before rejoining the other strings in a section that for me evoked a Biedermeier parlor, full of Schubertian counterpoint and accompanying pizzicati. It was as if Silent City had started out on forlorn Fourth Avenue, traversed a hypnotic, exalted landscape, and somehow wound up in Vienna.

...New York’s complicated new-music scene is thriving: Here, and in an assortment of other non–concert halls where ticket prices are modest, the dress code is scruffy and the vibe is one of curiosity rather than reverence. A musically voracious crowd packs into bars, Tribeca art galleries, raw performance spaces in Brooklyn, and ad hoc rooms with folding chairs. One piece might offer a raucous electric explosion, another an incantatory murmur, and a third a throbbing romantic melody—or all of the above, in quick succession. It’s Soho in the seventies all over again, with more aesthetic variety. There’s bad (and mediocre, and flat-out lame) along with the good, to be sure, but that’s part of a healthy experimental-music world. Experiments fail, and in doing so they return results.

...Today’s young composers and freelance musicians have become entrepreneurial multitaskers. They organize concerts and master electric versions of their instruments. They double as mandolin players, countertenors, sound engineers, and publicists. They play each other’s music, attend each other’s concerts, and ladle each other’s successful ideas liberally into their own compositions. To pick one example among many, the Juilliard-trained violist Lev Zhurbin, also known as “Ljova,” has played with Yo-Yo Ma and appeared at Zankel Hall, and it was he who arranged Kalhor’s Silent City for string quartet. But he’s probably most at home with his band the Vjola Contraband, which I also heard at Joe’s Pub, performing what might be described as Eastern European avant-folk.

...Ironically, this underground scene can exist in part because the classical establishment has been both envious and supportive. Carnegie Hall commissioned Kalhor’s piece and has hosted many of the musicians. In return, events like these help keep the juggernauts healthy because they disprove the theory that audiences demand only greatness and a repertoire triple-filtered by history. That’s a form of condescension I have never understood ... We don’t ask that every meal be reliably ambrosial. We don’t read only novels that we know will be transporting. In music, too, the public can tolerate disappointment in exchange for the nourishment that comes from a lack of expectations and the exciting uncertainty of not quite knowing how to judge.

December 2007

Brooklyn Rider at Bargemusic

Brooklyn Rider, a young string quartet based in Brooklyn and consisting of members of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, is gradually building a presence in New York and beyond. Appearing at Bargemusic (12 September), the young ensemble gave the premiere of Brooklesca, an international medley of Chinese, Persian, gypsy, and klezmer styles written by the group's violinist Colin Jacobsen (the other members are violinist Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen).

As the title suggests, Brooklesca is a musical tour of the various nationalties that reside in New York's most populous borough, and with its driving rhythmic ostinatos, Eastern scales and quasi-improvised riffa, it could easily sound comfortable in a dark, smoky hookah bar. Joining the ensemble was the Chinese-American pipa player Wu Man, who not only enriched the group's texture but also provided an arrangement: Red, Blue and Green for pipa, quartet and percussion, a short gypsy-flavored piece written by the New York composer Ljova. Also on the program was an elegant and sturdy reading of the Brahms String Quartet in A minor op. 51 no.2.

September 17, 2007

Few young artists are as versatile as the four gentlemen of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, whose members—the violist Nicholas Cords, violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen and Jacobsen's cello-playing brother, Eric—are veterans of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road project as well as expert advocates for the classical repertory.

August 21, 2006

...They had selected such an interesting program and played it with a rawness and verve that was gripping in the Barge's intimate space ... This was beautiful listening.

The Williams Record
March 15, 2005

The group’s skill and refined technique was evident from the very beginning of the first piece, “Standchen.” They did not exaggerate their dynamics as some performers feel pressured to do when confronted with the expanses of Chapin Hall, trying to fill its entire inner chamber with sound. Instead, they tastefully held back whenever the music required it, sometimes quieting down to nearly a whisper.

...(Williams College) music department’s recent Debussy marathon ended with that French composer’s Eastern-influenced “String Quartet in G Minor.” The work, better-known than the other pieces on the program, was interpreted masterfully...

The quartet took a surprisingly flowing, legato reading of the resolute first movement, focusing far more on their sound as an ensemble than on solo performances ... the overall effect was beautiful.

The performers were especially animated during this piece, nearly bouncing out of their chairs – and yes, breaking a bow hair or two in the process. Their playing throughout was entrancing not only in its energy, but in its sheer virtuosity; they turned in a performance of the Debussy quartet that, like the rest of the concert that had preceded it, was nothing short of astounding.

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