Putting Kayhan Kalhor and the string quartet Brooklyn Rider in front of a WOMEX audience was something of a risky proposition. As open-eared as most attendees are, I wondered if they’d perceive a group coming from a Western classical tradition as an invasion of their space.
I caught the seven musicians right after their soundcheck to discuss their collaboration, its evolution, and what’s next. For WOMAX, Brooklyn Riders ranks swelled for this event with two local colleagues, a bassist and percussionist. Their joint project with Kalhor has been rapturously received in the U.S., both in live performance and in their phenomenal recording for World Village entitled Silent City, but how would a WOMEX crowd respond? The proof would be in the performance itself, they said.
“This is really a project between the cracks,” observed Nick Cords, the group’s violist, who with violinist Colin Jacobsen has traveled to Iran to learn more about Kayan Kalhor’s artistic roots and musical home base. Kalhor is also a highly trained in Western classical music, who studied in Rome and Canada. “It’s not really world music, and it’s not strictly classical, either.” Eric Jacobsen, Brooklyn Rider’s cellist, made the point, “There’s no such thing as purity in music, Western classical included, anyway.”
“I think presenters, or audiences for that matter, get this project experientially,” said violinist Jacobsen. “It’s one thing for us to try to explain it in words, or for them to read about it, but I think it makes the most sense when they hear it live. This is the place to do that.”
“But it’s a good time--a great time, really--to present this kind of collaboration,” said Kalhor. “Presenters are looking for new ways of formatting, and audiences are receptive now.” These artists first came together as part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, a more heavily constructed effort to bridge musical cultures. The Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider project feels more organic: it’s the natural result of like-minded and open-spirited musicians simply making music together. “The relationship led the project,” said violinist Johnny Gandelsman.
As soon as their performance was over, it’s clear how well the audience understood the goal: the listeners--many of them multi-decade veterans of the music scene--erupted into a wild, sustained standing ovation, and proceeded to rush the stage. Mission most definitely accomplished.