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There’s a special kind of joy that comes with witnessing true musical genius—even, or maybe, especially—when you are unschooled and a have a true novice’s ear.
The exuberant New York-based string quartet Brooklyn Rider unleashed that joie de vivre in their final Historic Asolo performance for the Ringling International Arts Festival Sunday afternoon, taking the audience on an emotional ride full of rich and diverse musical references.
First, the high energy foursome played a piece written by one of their own: Beloved, do not let me be discouraged, composed by the group’s violinist Colin Jacobsen. It was a soulful start to the program, and as described in the program notes by Nicholas Cords (the quartet’s violist), inspired by a 16th-century Turkish poem about star-crossed lovers. Jacobsen is quoted as being enamored of the romance of the story and its ties to both Persian and 14th-century Italian music, poetry and sacred songs called Laude.
That link to Italy became more pronounced when Colin’s brother and Brooklyn Rider’s cellist, Eric Jacobsen, praised the beauty and acoustics of the restored Historic Asolo Theater, built in 1798, around the same time as his beloved cello. Both he said, were examples of “perfection and could not be improved upon.”
With the exception of the cellist, the quartet stood throughout the concert, adding to the impression that the men threw their entire bodies into their playing. For the second piece, the Jacobsen brothers, Johnny Gandelsman on violin and Nicholas Cords on viola played a complex tour de force selection: the String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 by Beethoven. A monumental work in seven movements, the music seemed to take you through the full gamut of human emotion experienced by the deaf composer, exposing, as Eric Jacobsen said, “his heart, mind and soul.” The players were so beautifully in tune with each other physically and emotionally that it was as if the melody flowed like water between them. No one wanted it to end.
The final selection was two stirring offerings from the music of the Roma, traveling bands of gypsies. Violist Nicholas Cords said that Haydn and Brahms were influenced by the Roma’s songs and had Beethoven not been deaf, he might surely have heard tunes outside his window that influenced the Opus 31. The romantic, foot-tapping gypsy spirit made for a rousing conclusion to the program.
Brooklyn Rider has been credited with bringing the 300-year-old string quartet form into the 21st century with verve and creativity. There was no question that the Ringling International Arts Festival audience wants them back in Sarasota for more.