The string quartet Brooklyn Rider’s conscious bid to energize serious chamber music and amp its popular appeal begins with the simple decision to play standing – except of course for cellist Eric Jacobsen, who plays on a height-equalizing riser. In their physical manner, they express, whirl and convulse about as much as their exacting material will allow (which is to say, not all that much). Their repertoire is inclusive and demonstrative, featuring much of the suddenly-accessible-again work of living composers as well as string-quartet standards by Beethoven and Debussy and plenty of non-canonical music and genre crossbreeds. They are young(ish), attractive (ish), low-gluten, dressed-down in their fashion and world-class in their chops.
The time couldn’t be better for what is, in actuality, a quite modest and dignified appeal for crossover interest (barring that one Mephistophelean blue-fog photo on their homepage). The Brooklyn Riders have seized on a phrase from a Pittsburgh Gazette review – “Beethoven-goes-indie” – and promoted it to a headline and implied mission statement. But in reality such boroughmates and indie stars as the Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, the Punch Brothers and others have been leading this “indie/chamber” development from the other side of the collision for quite a while, credibly blurring the lines between smart, expensive-school rock and serious chamber music.
There was a time when “indie” meant elective musical naïveté and sloth, intellectually fertilized in the Cultural Studies Departments – not the Music Departments – of those expensive schools. Now, more often than not it seems to mean music degrees from Yale, Berklee and SUNY-Purchase and one exquisite sui generis art song after another. The word “prog” is anathema to this crowd, but in truth that is the tradition that so much BK Indie rightly belongs in, smartly repositioned for the post-Deconstruction age. There is barely any distinction anymore, much less brow-war animosity, between Brooklyn pop and Brooklyn high art. In these mean streets, they sample Berg.
So – even though they don’t play up the revolutionary rhetoric much at all – the Brooklyn Rider crossover ruse strikes me as perhaps a little thin; but the music doesn’t. No, no: This is a beautiful and daring ensemble and one whose tours just happen to make stops at the City Winery and NPR’s Tiny Desk, as well as the familiar halls and galleries of the serious music establishment. And their fiery interpretations of a broad, self-defined canon are welcomed and well-received wherever they go, which speaks well of us all.
The Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society presents the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet at 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 22 at the beautiful Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck. The program, we are told, will be announced from the stage. Tickets cost $25 general admission, $5 for students, and are available at https://rhinebeckmusic.org. The Church of the Messiah is located at 6436 Montgomery Street in Rhinebeck.
Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society presents Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, Sunday, November 22, 3 p.m., $25/$5, Church of the Messiah, 6436 Montgomery Street, Rhinebeck; https://rhinebeckmusic.org.