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THE DARTMOUTH: BROOKLYN RIDER REDEFINES CLASSICAL

By: Cyra Kang

February 24, 2009

The Dartmouth

The string quartet Brooklyn Rider broke away from the classical quartet stereotype during their Feb. 21 concert in Rollins Chapel, playing a set of pieces that drew on both Eastern and Western cultures, and both traditional instruments and electronic compositions.

Brooklyn Rider played a variety of pieces ranging from a Japanese folk song and at another by Debussy's String Quartet in G minor. Special guest Kojiro Umezaki Gr '93 played the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, during several numbers, adding an unexpected -- if not eccentric -- dimension to the performance.

The group began the evening with an arrangement of "Ascending Bird," a traditional Persian song that recounts the "legend of the bird which tried to fly to the sun three times," according to Brooklyn Rider violist Nicholas Cords. A repeating pattern of notes seemed to mimic the constant flapping of a bird's wings. The group sustained an intense atmosphere throughout the piece that led to an eventual climax described by Cords as a "certain kind of transcendence."

The quartet followed this first song with a performance of the first movement of Philip Glass's String Quartet No. 4, "Buczak."

The song opened mysteriously, immediately identifiable with Glass's signature sense of rhythm and harmony. The piece's second movement was more evocative compared to the others -- as the viola and cello maintained the thematic pattern of the piece, two violins played an expressive melody. The last movement began with relatively consonant and stable chords, then returned to the overall thematic pattern of the song.

The piece contained what Cords called "phrases, cycles, harmony that repeat themselves in a way that actually induces a kind of dream-like state."

Dartmouth College commissioned Umezaki to produce the third song, "Cycles." Umezaki earned a master's degree from Dartmouth's electro-acoustic music program.

"Cycles" is based on Sagariha, a melody that mirrors the sound of falling leaves, according to Cords. He said that the multiplicity of the different sounds of the instruments reflects the different movement of each falling leaf. For this piece, the shakuhachi was accompanied by electronic melodies from a computer program created especially for the piece.

The combination of electronics, shakuhachi and western string instruments ironically formed a natural harmony.

In the fourth song, "Lullaby," Umezaki further showcased his modern interpretation of shakuhachi and his flawless technical mastery of the instrument.

Claude Debussy's String Quartet in G minor, Op.10, marked the finale of the performance, and its pattern of dynamic highs and lows was evident from the piece's first movement. Constant pizzicato and tremolo also served as driving forces in the piece. The melodic third movement resembled Glass's work in its creation of a "dream-like state," while the fourth concluded the quartet's performance with vigorous expression.

After this dramatic and energetic ending, the audience's eager applause drew an encore performance of "Crosstown," composed by an unnamed contemporary of the quartet. The fervor of the audience's response to the performance validated Cords' description of the relationship between musician and audience as an "open circle."

The evening's program offered a new interpretation of the modern string quartet's repertoire. Though each piece was composed in a different time and in a different culture, the songs came together to create a cohesive body of work Saturday night.

As Cords said, the arts need to be constantly renovated and regenerated. True to form, Brooklyn Rider walked the audience through a regeneration of classical music, one spanning Eastern and Western cultures.

 

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