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The concluding concert of the 2010 September Prelude Chamber Music Festival sponsored by Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, Duke Performances and UNC Chapel Hill was presented in Fletcher Opera Theater. The featured artists were the accomplished and versatile string quartet, Brooklyn Rider (Johnny Gandelsman & Colin Jacobsen, violins, Nicholas Cords, viola, & Eric Jacobsen, cello). Those who read the fine Preview article on the CVNC website have a solid introduction to the group’s diverse and cross-cultural approach to their music making. Those in the audience today experienced the well-balanced taste of a variety of cultures.
The concert began with the beguiling Armenian Folk Songs, a set of ten melodies from the collection of Komitas Vartabed and arranged for string quartet by S. Aslamazian. Rich in rhythm and modal harmonies these melodies took us on a journey of human emotions familiar yet entrancingly strange. One could visualize a family or tribe gathered around a campfire dancing songs of joy and celebration, remembering and honoring those not there, laughing at old stories and fables and recalling times of tender sharing. We didn’t need the words. The message was in the music.
This was following by ”Brooklesca,” a piece by Colin Jacobsen written to reflect the variety and diversity of Brooklyn which is home base for the four members of Brooklyn Rider. It weaves together the riffs of jazz, hints of rock, the unique charm of klezmer along with the haunting kamancheh (a Persian stringed instrument) playing of Kayhan Kalhor (a contemporary Kurdish master of the instrument). The intricate playing and fascinating stew of musical styles was a satisfying meal, entertaining and gratifying.
Having just recently been in Prague where I spent a delightful evening at the Dvořák museum I was up for the “American Quartet” by the Czech master. Of course anyone who has heard Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 in F, Op. 96 has found it unforgettable and is left with a lingering desire to hear it again. From the rhapsodic opening theme of the viola it was clear that this was going to be a special performance. The swells, contrasts, sensitive dynamics and energy underscored the emotional fervor that endears this piece to so many. It was an interesting pairing with the music of Jacobsen. Dvořák, too, weaves together a wide variety of American idioms of his time: Appalachian like themes, hints of African American spirituals, Native American dances, New England hymns – all through the filter of Czech spirit. The lento was shaped smoothly and liltingly. The third and fourth movements danced with dazzling technique and effervescence.
For the closing selection, the quartet chose another piece by Jacobson: “Sheriff’s Lied, Sheriff’s Freude,” an eclectic, eight-minute work composed in 2009. It began with a steady plucked rhythm by the violin. To this was added a mystical bowed melody clearly in homage to Kalhor’s kamancheh playing. Along the way, the piece picked up reflections of music heard in the streets, clubs and concert halls of Brooklyn. It also picked up complexity and virtuosity and at the end I am sure that many shared the smile of pleasure I had on my face.
The chamber music concert season is off to a splendid start. There will, no doubt, be many more pleased audiences and smiling faces in the Triangle over the coming months.