Brooklyn Rider return!
Photo courtesy of Amber Star
Ever engaging, charismatic, boundary-pushing and perspective-shifting, avant garde string quartet Brooklyn Rider are one of the most exciting names in classical music. Ahead of their return to Hong Kong – their third trip in just over 18 months – for concerts in the Premiere Performances Recital Series and PLAY! Series, we chat with the foursome, Eric Jacobsen, Colin Jacobsen, Johnny Gandelsman and Nicholas Cord, about their growing affinity to Hong Kong and their just- released new album, A Walking Fire.
Hey guys. Nice to chat with you again. You’ve come to Hong Kong a number of times now. What’s been your favourite thing about it?
Eric Jacobsen: I love waking up and looking out over the water. Like NY, HK seems calm and gentle from above. Then when you go down to the street and enter into reality, the wonderfully insane speed and hustle reminds me so much of home, NY.
You’re about to release a new album, A Walking Fire – and this recital’s programme seems to focus on the repertoire that will appear on that album. Tell us about putting together this repertoire for the album and recital?
Colin Jacobsen: We see the string quartet form as an opportunity to continually cross borders real and imagined, and hopefully learn something in the process. All the music on A Walking Fire is inspired quite explicitly by travel – in the case of Bartok, we know that he travelled wide and far collecting folk melodies in his native Hungary and neighbouring Romania; but he also visited North Africa around the time of the 2nd Quartet. My piece, 3 Miniatures ( one of which is titled A Walking Fire), was written after time spent visiting and working with a great Persian classical musician in Iran, Kayhan Kalhor, and Ljova's Culai is a beautiful homage to the great Roma (or gypsy) violinist/singer/storyteller Nicolae Neascu (‘Culai’) from the small village of Clejani near Bucharest. Ljova had the opportunity to visit this village, which is the home of the world famous Romani band Taraf de Haidouks, and which carries on many of the traditions that Bartok likely encountered in his travels. I believe that with Bartok as a great model, both Ljova and myself attempted to internalise what was a life-changing experience for each of us and to transform that into our own musical language. In general, Brooklyn Rider looks for pieces (whether on an album or a live concert) to speak to each other across time and space, and hopefully leave the listener with an internal sense of journey.
You’re becoming favourites with the Hong Kong crowd. What kind of reaction have you had from our audiences?
Johnny Gandelsman: We are becoming more familiar with the wonderful audiences of Hong Kong. Last year we had a chance to play in HK twice, both as members of Brooklyn Rider and Silk Road Ensemble. The reception was incredibly warm and enthusiastic, so we are very much looking forward to building upon those experiences in the upcoming show, hopefully developing a sense of trust between the audience and Brooklyn Rider.
How would you describe how this album fits in with your previous albums?
Johnny Gandelsman: Like our previous albums, A Walking Fire is centred around a towering work from the standard string quartet repertoire, this time Bela Bartok's haunting 2nd Quartet. For Bartok, travel to lands both familiar and foreign informed his musical language in a deep and profound way. The other two composers on the album, our own Colin Jacobsen and Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin, both have a similar relationship to travel, as you can hear in Colin's Three Miniatures, and Ljova's Culai.
Nicholas Cords: To add to what Johnny is saying about how travel is an explicit theme of A Walking Fire, we want all of our recordings to implicitly feel like they take you on a journey. Nowadays, many people download single songs from an artist. I guess we continue to hold on to the old-fashioned notion that an album should be listened to from beginning to end. And through repeated listening sessions, one may find that the pieces start to speak to each other in unexpected ways. At least, that is our hope!
You’re doing both a recital and a PLAY! concert this time. Explain the difference in your approach to them? What will you be doing at the PLAY concert?
Nicholas Cords: We are super excited because we understand that this may be the first time that the PLAY! audience is going to be exposed to the string quartet. What an opportunity for all of us! In some ways, an audience like this with a very open mind is our ideal audience. We are going to go on a string quartet test ride with repertoire that spans from the music of the Roma to late Beethoven to something we wrote collaboratively as a string quartet to jazz pianist Vijay Iyer's tribute to the great James Brown. We may even get the audience to help us out a bit! The PLAY! concert will feature bite-size portions so that we can achieve maximum variety in a short amount of time. The more formal recital we are doing features some of the same repertoire, but in full versions.
Brooklyn Rider is in recital on Thu Apr 18 and perform in PLAY! on Fri Apr 19. Both concerts at the Jockey Club Amphitheatre at the HKAPA. Tickets: pphk.org.