Dumbarton Concerts consistently offers the city’s most engaging mix of high-quality artists in eclectic programming, andSaturday’s performance by the genre-bending string quartet Brooklyn Rider certainly fit the mold. The concert surrounded Beethoven’s Op. 131 quartet with Romanian gypsy music composed or arranged by Lev Zhurbin, some film music by Philip Glass, and an ear-tickling opener, Seven Steps, composed collaboratively by the foursome themselves.
The members of Brooklyn Rider cut their teeth in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and have sought to apply that group’s loose, all-embracing aesthetic to classical music’s strict and demanding genre. That they enjoy themselves and put on a great show while doing so is beyond dispute. But their overarching artistic goals are harder to pin down. Other than the Beethoven, nothing they performed needed to be played by a string quartet; the Glass didn’t even need to be played by humans. Zhurbin’s newly composed quartet, heartfelt and appealing, sounded a lot like his traditional arrangements. The group channeled this and other world-music styles in their opening mash-up, which alternated sections of pure sound effects with foot-stomping dance music that suggested Janacek wandering into a bluegrass festival.
Of the Beethoven, the less said the better. Though in the program notes the group paid homage to several iconic early-20th-century groups like the Busch and Capet quartets, Brooklyn Rider’s rendition wavered between a parody and refutation of that style. Attempting to play this music without vibrato cuts off at least a third of a string quartet’s expressive palette. If you imagine the Hammerklavier sonata on a harpsichord (or “The Wizard of Oz” entirely in black and white), you will have an idea what this performance sounded like. But for the rest, Brooklyn Rider was never less than zestful and entertaining.
Battey is a freelance writer.