If you've paid any attention at all, you've probably seen or heard something about Brooklyn Rider, pretty much the biggest thing in string quartets there is right now.
However, violist Nick Cords said the group didn't start out trying to be the rebirth of the string quartet, or be different, or be cool. They just wanted to play music.
"We definitely don't set out in the first place to be different," he said. "In whatever we do, whether it's programming, or an idea for a collaboration, or an idea for a new work, we try to operate in a way that's true to our shared values, and those have to do with tradition for sure, but we're also really committed to the music of our time and the incredible musical resources we have in the world."
That talk of music resources available to us the world around us translates into a sense of musical travel, so it's not uncommon for the members of Brooklyn Rider to get out on the town in whatever city they're in just to soak up the local music scene.
"A very likely thing for us is that we might seek out one of these places that have the kind of Red Dirt style after our Saturday night show," Cords said, already planning to soak in some Tulsa sound before shipping out again.
In being musical travelers, the four musicians are, in Cords' words, looking for new traditions.
"We don't specialize in new music, nor do we specialize in the tried-and-true string quartet repertoire," he said. "We wouldn't call ourselves specialists in anything. We want to be incredibly broad in what we do and have the largest umbrella possible. We try to have a lot of fun."
And that's a key word in any description of Brooklyn Rider -- one that Cords recognizes is sometimes at odds with people's perceptions of what a string quartet and its music might be.
"There is that somewhat stuffy aspect of the classical music tradition," he said. "One can argue whether that perception is actually true, but I know that we try to have fun. Our concerts have a lot of energy, and we try to interact with the audience as much as possible. We're perfectionists in our own way. I think anyone who plays in a quartet has to be because it's such an intricate world."
But a Brooklyn Rider concert is also a diverse world.
"Looking at these programs, I guess there would be multiple entry points for different audience members and people who have different types of interest," Cords said. "Somebody might look at the program and say, 'Hey, a Mozart string quartet -- I want to see that,' but then after the concert, say, 'You know, I came to hear the Mozart, but my favorite thing was this other piece that was new to me.'"
That, he said, is a truly successful concert in his eyes.
Cords, along with Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violins and Colin' brother Eric on cello, make up Brooklyn Rider, and true to their somewhat unusual approach, they'll be doing something of an unorthodox, two-day stand in Tulsa.
"The Saturday night program is a kind of salon program," Cords explained. "It's an intermission-less program, and then we're also doing more of a formal concert on Sunday afternoon. I think both of those programs definitely draw from The Walking Fire, and that album is really celebrating the idea of travel and what travel can do to the imagination and how that takes root in the mind and the ear of the composer."
One of the more fascinating things about that Saturday program is a work called Culai. Composer (and friend of Brooklyn Rider) Ljova was bouncing around Romania (I mean, who hasn't done that, right?) and happened upon the music of a gypsy band called Taraf de Haïdouks.
"He fell in love with this band," Cords said. In Culai, "you sort of hear a celebration of Nicolae Neacsu, who was this amazing gypsy violist. It really captures that Romanian gypsy music. And we're also playing some pieces from that band and arrangements of traditionally Roma music."
Okay, so that's kind of off-the-beaten path, and will seem even more so as it follows the concert's opener.
"We're starting our program with a Mozart quartet that comes from a completely different place," Cords said.
Sunday's program will feature music form Franz Schubert and John Cage -- the latter a transcription of a solo piano piece that Cords seems to feel exceeds its source material.
"It's for solo piano, but we have a string quartet arrangement of it that kind of feels like the ideal meditation," he said of Cage's "In the Landscape." "And then we're playing apiece that's only had one performance by Evan Ziporyn, and it's called 'Qi.' We feel all those go together because there are incredible rhythmic and sonic textures."
In the second half of the Sunday show, Brooklyn Rider will perform a string quartet by Béla Bartók, who spent much of his life doing exactly what Brooklyn Rider enjoys -- getting out around the world and finding local music.
"He was the greatest musical traveler of the 20th century," Cords said.
The four are close friends (and half of the group is related), so the positive energy that they create definitely come out in the music, and Cords doesn't think that's an accident.
"We've been playing together about eight years, but I think the thing that's special about it is we've known each other for much longer," he said. "Colin and Eric have been playing all kinds of music together forever, and Johnny and I were roommates for a time. These relationships go back a long time. It wasn't until eight years ago that we decided, 'we should have a quartet, and we need a name.'"
Since then, Brooklyn Rider has traveled the world, doing their 21st-century impression of Béla Bartók. In doing so, they've gotten to play with a wide variety of astounding musicians, including another Béla -- the banjo-playing one.
"We have really broad tastes, and we've done work with Béla Fleck," Cords said. "We've been working with him, and he wrote a piece for us -- a banjo quartet. It's an amazing piece, about 25 minutes long, and we're building a program around that."
While Tulsa audiences won't be treated to Fleck or his Flecktones, the spirit of that banjo quartet will still be in evidence, according to Cords.
"These pieces we're doing in Tulsa celebrate sort of the down-home music of places around the globe," he said. "All these composers are drawing from amazing influences. Mozart was so worldly. He had an incredibly open ear, and if you listen hard enough, you can hear all these different influences set into his music."
Brooklyn Rider will offer three performances this weekend: the first is a free show at Foolish Things Coffee House at 1001 S. Main St. on Saturday, September 21 at 10:30am. Later that night, the quartet will play the Westby Pavilion in the PAC at 7:30, and they'll play a different program on Sunday at 3:00pm in the Williams Theatre. Tickets are $25 for adults and $5 for students and are available at 918-596-7111 or myticketoffice.com.
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