Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider celebrate a decade of collaboration in Harper

Paul Smirl

Lawrence welcomed Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider to Harper Hall on Monday, Feb. 6 as the fourth installment of the University’s 2011-2012 World Music Series. Touring in support of their spankin’ new album “Seven Steps,” Brooklyn Rider wowed the Harper audience from start to finish, presenting a program full of dense, ever-changing pieces.

While the New York quartet wasn’t shy about its latest writing forays, the musicians graciously asserted from the beginning that their performance was a celebration of their friendship with the Iranian-based Kalhor.

Going into the concert, there was definite uncertainty about the style of Brooklyn Rider’s and Kalhor’s music. Hailed by NPR for “recreating the 300-year-old form of string quartet as a vital and creative 21st-century ensemble,” Brooklyn Rider is a genre-bending group that has been greatly marked by their contemporariness.

Contrastingly, Kalhor is a master of traditional Iranian music and the kamancheh, an instrument that is heard by American audiences about as much as its name is pronounced correctly.

Yet, while there were undoubtedly visible contrasts between their presentations — Brooklyn Rider’s slick dark dress and sheet music against Kalhor’s colorful Iranian wear and absence of visual aids — their music blended unbelievably well, as age and culture were seemingly disregarded in favor of honest expression and precise musicianship.

Not scared to stray from the script, Brooklyn Rider laughed about going against the written program in favor of performing what seemed like a specific Lawrence concert, explaining their reasoning for playing the title track from “Seven Steps” by exclaiming that “it felt like the right time to play it.”

Passionate about their own writing, Brooklyn Rider was indeed at their best when performing original pieces, particularly memorable was “Beloved Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged” penned by violinist Colin Jacobsen.

Based on the “Romeo and Juliet”-esque tale of “Leyli and Majnun,” the piece was noted in the program for evoking “the deep desire to lose oneself in love” felt in Persian music. Inspired by a 2004 trip to Iran, Jacobsen’s tune was a mesmerizing journey into a blended realm.

Brooklyn Rider and Kalhor’s diverse color palettes fused together, forming a warm, textured musical fabric that grew and transformed as Kalhor’s human voice-like kamancheh solos powerfully floated on top and in between Brooklyn Rider’s steady melodies.

Brooklyn Rider’s performance of Philip Glass’ “Suite for String Quartet” from the composer’s soundtrack to the film “Bent,” while, notable as the piece’s Appleton premier, seemed merely a segue between collaborative performances with Kalhor.

The five movements certainly impressed, but the abrupt silences between movements and the absence of the group’s fifth voice made Glass’ otherwise exciting music a noticeable transition between intensely emotional Iranian-inspired works.

That being said, Brooklyn Rider and Kalhor closed tremendously with “Silent City,” a dark and desolate piece whose burgeoning power slowly leaked out of the quintet’s hushed soundscapes and blossomed into an emotionally riveting and provocative display.

Partially improvised, “Silent City” demonstrated the full range of musicianship that the artists had hinted at throughout the concert and took the performance into sphere of intensity as the musicians head-banged their way to the end of the piece.

Consequently, the audience was right alongside the performers, as a truly inspiring and intimate concert of transformative music finished grandly, leaving concert-goers to fervently applaud the friendship of Brooklyn Rider and Kalhor.