Coming up: It’s 2015. Do you know where your string quartet is?


Brooklyn Rider, the string quartet at the forefront of contemporary chamber music, will perform this Saturday evening, May 2 at 8:00 p.m. at Sweeney Concert Hall, Smith College, Northampton. The concert, presented by Music In Deerfield and the Smith College Music Department will be preceded at 7:00 by “Concert Conversations,” featuring the musicians in conversation with yours truly. Click here for tickets and information. Here’s what I wrote for the program booklet:

“And now,” as the Monty Python troupe would say, “for something completely different.”

Yes, in strictly classical terms, tonight’s concert is very different from the norm, consisting almost exclusively of new string quartet works by musicians not associated with classical music.  This was the idea behind the “Brooklyn Rider Almanac,” from which each selection other than Haydn’s (he came along a little too early) is drawn.

Well, this may be a new idea for classical music.  But for plain old music, of which classical is but a small and rather circumscribed part, nothing could be more in keeping with the current zeitgeist.  In today’s music, composers and performers (who are often the same people) are naturally fluent in many styles and collaborate easily with others of very different backgrounds.  I’m not talking here about musical “crossover,” where classical musicians let down their hair or pop musicians put on classical airs.  For today’s adventurous, open-eared musicians, there’s nowhere to “cross over” to – they’re already there.

So tonight, we’ll hear pieces by jazz musicians (Vijay Iyer, Bill Frisell), a top Latin composer-arranger (Gonzalo Grau), an alt-folk singer-songwriter (Aoife O’Donovan), the drummer from the rock band Wilco (Glenn Kotche), a composer-violinist equally at home in classical and in “folk festivals and dive bars the world over” (Dana Lyn) and a versatile cellist-composer from Albania (Rubin Kodheli) – though even to describe these musicians as such is to limit them.  Having practically worn out my copy of “The Brooklyn Rider Almanac” album – and it’s on CD! – I love both the skill and the fresh perspectives these talented folks bring to the venerable quartet medium.  Roll over Beethoven?  Not quite, but for one night, Beethoven can make way for what these incredibly talented kids are doing today.

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