There some classical quartets dabble in contemporary composers while making sure to keep some Bach or Beethoven handy, Brooklyn Rider has shown its commitment to the shock of the new by commissioning a whole album of new works and then touring it.
“The Brooklyn Rider Almanac,” released on Mercury Classics this last September, contains an hour’s worth of commissioned works from artists like Bill Frisell, Christina Courtin, Gonzalo Grau and others. Not everybody involved is a classical composer. In fact, at Thursday night’s performance at Hahn Hall, Brooklyn Rider will premiere “Ping Pong Thumble Thaw” by Glenn Kotche, drummer of the rock band Wilco. The work was commissioned by UCSB Arts & Lectures.
“By the end of the evening, not only are you going to hear a lot of different music, but a lot of influences,” says Nicholas Cords, one of Brooklyn Rider’s violists. Every work on the “Almanac” is a tribute to an artist in another field. “The Haring Escape,” by Nicholas’ brother Daniel Cords, takes Keith Haring as its inspiration. Rubin Kodheli’s “Necessary Henry!” alludes to Henry Threadgill. “Show Me” by Aoife O’Donovan is inspired by William Faulkner.
Mr. Cords and his mates — violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen — recorded the album first, and now are slowly taking it out on the road.
“You do a lot of learning when you are recording a piece in the studio,” Mr. Cords says. “You want to be able to record it before you play it live. There’s another model that says you only want to record after you’ve played dozens of times. That might be the case for Beethoven, but this is more like a band would do an album. The pieces develop a new life that way. We explore them more, learn more from the audience, get more comfortable; that’s just a huge, fun part of the process.”
“The ‘Almanac’ is a way of celebrating our 10th anniversary,” Mr. Cords continues. “We can’t believe that it’s been that long, but there’s been an enormous change in 10 years. We’ve been part of a large group that’s been pushing these boundaries for a long time. I see it as a movement to embracing what a musician considers part of the repertoire.”
Ten years ago, Mr. Cords says, the music scene was different. There was that need to specialize in something, anything.
“The thing we’ve always tried to do is not be a specialist. We’ve done projects with people all over the world. A lot of that comes from our experience with (Yo-Yo Ma’s) Silk Road Ensemble . . . We’ve worked with electronic musicians, folk musicians, singer-songwriters. But we had to work a long time to say to people that who we are is an amalgamation of a lot of these things.”
Who’s to say a string quartet can’t include their friends? Greg Saunier, drummer of the San Francisco band Deerhoof, has composed “Quartet, Parts One & Two” (inspired by avant garde composer Christian Wolff) for the quartet.
“Deerhoof fans might be surprised, but it’s just another aspect of himself,” Mr. Cords says.
Mr. Kotche’s “Ping Pong Thumble Thaw” was inspired by Jens Massel, the techno DJ. Coming from a drummer, it’s not surprising that the work is more rhythmic than melodic.
“Glenn is someone who can really make his drumset speak,” says Mr. Cords. “He created the original sketches on his kit. So that bouncing around, it just feels like we’re a drum set together with pitches. That might not be all of it, but for us that’s the way of understanding the piece.”
Mr. Cords knew Mr. Kotche before he knew of Wilco. There’s a solo percussion album he made in 2006 called “Mobile,” which includes a variation of classic Monkey Chant, and he’s written for the Kronos Quartet, So Percussion and Eighth Blackbird.
“A lot of our friends are like that,” Mr. Cords says. “They have lives within lives within lives.”
Brooklyn Rider Presents
“Brooklyn Rider Almanac”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Hahn Hall, Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Rd.
Cost: $32 general, $10 UCSB students
Information: 893-3535, artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu