Metro Weekly

Brookyn Rider: Stretching Boundaries

String quartet Brooklyn Rider moves beyond classical

Brooklyn Rider Photo by Sarah Small

Brooklyn Rider – Photo by Sarah Small

It’s unusual enough that Glenn Kotche would write an instrumental composition for Brooklyn Rider. That he titled it “Ping Pong Fumble Thaw” is stranger still.

“We asked many composers, mostly outside of what we think of as the classical music world to write short pieces in which they reference an artistic inspiration of their choice,” the string quartet’s Colin Jacobsen explains.

Kotche, drummer of alt-rock band Wilco, wasn’t inspired by table tennis. He chose Germany’s minimal electronic musician Jens Massel, drawing names from Massel’s record titles that also work to describe the sounds you’re hearing. And yes, you essentially hear the sound of a ping-pong bouncing back and forth throughout.

Jacobsen, one of the group’s violinists as well as in-house composer, expects the quartet will play the amusing Kotche composition this weekend when it returns to Sixth & I as part of a 10th anniversary concert presented by Washington Performing Arts. The evening will also feature other compositions from the Brooklyn Rider Almanac, including the world premiere of a piece by Tyondai Braxton that didn’t make the recording released last year.

The project was inspired by the same German artistic collective, Blue Rider, that inspired the group’s name. A century ago Blue Rider members, including composer Arnold Schoenberg and painter Wassily Kandinsky, contributed to an “eclectic” cross-disciplinary almanac of essays and prints as well as music manuscripts.

The Brooklyn Rider Almanac is similarly set to grow to include more than just music. For example, several choreographers will premiere works set to compositions in the collection, performed live by the quartet, at Colorado’s Vail International Dance Festival this summer.

Obviously, Brooklyn Rider is not your father’s string quartet — even if your father was a classical musician as Jacobsen’s was. His mother was too, and his younger brother, Eric, is the quartet’s cellist. (“It’s kind of all in the family.”) The quartet has succeeded in part because of the “great chemistry” among all four original members, but also because of mutual involvement in other endeavors working to expand the boundaries of classical music, and music in general, including Yo-Yo Ma’s high-profile collective.

Explains Jacobsen: “Joining the Silk Road Ensemble, which all four of us are a part of, also really opened up our ears and eyes to the world.”

Washington Performing Arts presents Brooklyn Rider Saturday, March 21, at 8 p.m. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. 600 I St. NW. Tickets are $28. Call 202-408-3100 or visit washingtonperformingarts.org.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.