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I haven’t felt so good at a concert since I heard the JACK Quartet perform dopamine (Jeff Myers, 2007) a few months ago. Colin Jacobsen’s new composition, with which the Brooklyn Rider string quartet opened its first September Prelude concert in UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall, is in a very different style from that pulsing enjoyment ride, but, as Jacobsen — one of the group’s violinists — says in his program notes, quoting the admired Claude-Achille Debussy, “pleasure is the law” of this music, and it generates its own delightful gratifications.
With his long, delicate fingers, slim black-shod feet, loose black clothes and tall body curving to fit the sounds, Colin Jacobsen brought to mind Eugène Delacroix’s 1831 portrait of Niccolò Paganini, in which the great violinist and composer conveys the feeling in the music by his very posture. Jacobsen, however, appears to be somewhat more mischievous. His Achille’s Heel is full of funny surprises and little jokes (starting with the title), mixed in with sweetly twining sounds and lovely resonances. The second movement of the four, “Second Bounce,” includes a great deal of plucking and thumping by all four instruments, very jazzy. It was like hearing and seeing fireworks go off, the orderly explosions of spark and color overlaid with the random energetic sounds of bursting corn.
Brooklyn Rider will be appearing in Durham Saturday, and in Raleigh on Sunday, but each of the concerts in the collaborative September Prelude series is different. If you missed the one in Memorial Hall, sponsored by UNC Music/William S. Newman Artists Series, and want to hear Achille’s Heel, go to the group’s website, www.brooklynrider.com to hear tracks from their new album, Dominant Curve, or to buy the music. The album also includes John Cage’s In a Landscape, arranged for strings by Justin Messina. As played on stage Friday, without supplemental electronics, it was absolutely beautiful. The landscape it put me in was fog-filled, mountainous, green with firs and pearly with moisture, inscrutable with solitude; the sound muffled, vibrating, yet sometimes bell-like.
The concert’s first half also included the sly La Muerte Chiquita (The Little Death) by the Mexican group Café Tacuba, as arranged by Osvaldo Golijov, and ended with the energetic “Federico II” from Viaggio in Italia, by Sicilian composer Giovanni Sollima, pulsing with dance rhythms. At intermission, the consensus in a group of strangers was that this band was hot — “like our mountain music.”
The woman had lit on the thing that makes Brooklyn Rider so intriguing: these are very smart artists, deeply knowledgeable about their own art form, and also literate and visually attuned. But they are not making music only for the head — you take in their playing with your whole body, the way they play with their whole bodies. They are passionate.
That passion informed Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10, which filled most of the second half. It’s a very definite work, vivid with certainties, and the four highly-charged musicians of Brooklyn Rider played the daylights out of it. This is on the Dominant Curve album also, so they must have been working on it for a long time, but it felt more like they’d just stumbled into musical Nirvana — everything seemed fresh and amazing, as if it had just been written for them. The first two movements are very bold, even strange, that minor g rattling your bones, but fun — then the andantino has you weeping; the final section ends très mouvementé et avec passion. Before I could catch my breath, the musicians lifted us all to Nirvana with Ascending Bird, a thrilling traditional Persian tune, arranged by Colin Jacobsen and Siamk Aghaei (on Brooklyn Rider/Kayhan Kalhor’s fantastic Silent City album). If this was only the prelude to the fall concert season, I guess the rest of it is bound to be heavenly.
September Prelude continues Sept. 11 with the Duke Performances/Durham Chamber Arts Society concert in Reynolds Theater, and Sept. 12, with the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild presentation in Fletcher Opera Theater. See our calendar for details.