N.C. Homecoming: Brooklyn Rider Is Embraced By Fans

Cellist Michael Nicolas (center) is newest addition to the quartet Brooklyn Rider.  (Erin Baiano)
By Jackson Cooper

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Carolina Performing Arts is doing something right. Executive and artistic director Emil Kang’s tenure, marked by the presentation of quality groups from all around the world, reflects his passion and commitment to listening to the greater North Carolina community. In a pre-concert address to the audience, Kang stressed CPA’s vital role not only in building relationships with artists but also in maintaining them — as it has with Brooklyn Rider. Oct. 7 marked the ensemble’s seventh appearance in Chapel Hill.

“We thank Emil and Carolina Performing Arts for making Carolina feel like a second home,” violinist Colin Jacobsen said from the stage. “We love it here.”

Emil Kang fosters long term artist-audience relationships in Chapel Hill. 

The relationship of Brooklyn Rider with the North Carolina audience was immediately clear upon looking at the evening’s program, a roster of contemporary composers ranging from Philip Glass to Caroline Shaw to Nico Muhly to Björk [whose last name is Guðmundsdóttir] to Kate Bush.

‘so many things’ mixes classical and pop. (Naive Records)

The program, which will be repeated at Carnegie Hall Oct. 13, was an extension of Brooklyn Rider’s newest CD release titled So Many Things – with mezzo-soprano Anne Sophie von Otter, who also appeared in this concert. Speaking from the stage, von Otter explainied her desire to dip into contemporary music “whether that meant contemporary classical composers or contemporary pop composers who are some of the finest composers writing today.” The program, indeed, made a case for this.

Brooklyn Rider opened the concert with three selections from Glass’ Suite from Bent, which proved to be an accessible introduction to more challenging works heard later in the program. The cinematic nature of these pieces was captured in the group’s subdued, expressive playing, which might have perfectly accompanied images on a screen.

Von Otter joined the group for three vocal works: Caroline Shaw’s “Cant voi l’aube” commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Colin Jacobsen’s setting of Lydia Davis’ short story “For Sixty Cents” (and featuring a coffee cup as an instrument), and John Adams’ “Am I in Your Light” from Doctor Atomic. All three thrived in the precise interplay of singer and quartet.

Tyondai Braxton’s ArpRec1 then provided a quartet interlude, if a rather dizzyingly complicated one that never reached a tangible idea in its writing and proved to sound more repetitive than inventive.

Muly's 'so many things' uses text from Joyce Carol Oates, others.(Matthew Murphy)
Muly’s ‘so many things’ uses text from Joyce Carol Oates, others.
(Matthew Murphy)

Nico Muhly’s song cycle So Many Things displayed the composer’s skill in utilizing the full range of a string quartet, and the foursome gave a moving account of Janáček’s Quartet No. 1 (“Kreutzer Sonata”). The group’s emotional depth and technical bravura made it a standout of the evening.

Von Otter returned to the stage, this time behind a microphone on a stand to perform arrangements of pop composers’ songs. Her melancholy croon through Björk’s “Cover Me” and “Hunter” was chilling. And von Otter’s delivered a knockout with Sting’s “Practical Arrangement,” featured on the album, showcasing her ability to change vocal timbre effortlessly from operatic coloratura to soulful pop to torch song. Effortless, too, was guest cellist Michael Nicolas’ heartfelt playing of the opening solo lines.

Von Otter’s performances of Elvis Costello’s “Speak Darkly My Angel” and Kate Bush’s “Pi” concluded the concert, giving the audience still more reasons for its standing ovation.

Jackson Cooper writes for CVNC, an online arts journal in North Carolina. He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America and the Conductor’s Guild. The recent graduate of UNC-Greensboro is Executive Director of Chamber Music Raleigh and serves on the board of PARK Productions in Pittsburgh.