Kayhan Kalhor

Brooklyn Rider & Kayhan Kalhor review: unchanging aesthetic

Poorly programmed contemporary music concert's strong opening and closing numbers can't compensate for a sagging middle


Beloved, do not let me be discouraged closed the first half of Brooklyn Rider and kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor‘s concert at Corvallis’s LaSells Stewart Center with the exact same highly digestible aesthetic it opened on. The May 24 program’s unchanging syrupy aesthetic left my mind to wander to the harsh life of the Himalayan mountain goat. I imagined David Attenborough so gracefully narrating the subsistence existence or brutal death which certainly lay ahead for my little goat. That is to say, Beloved and the concert’s unchanging aesthetic was that of music written to serve a function subservient to another medium, such as nature visuals.

The problem was: there was no other medium. Just a poorly programmed show with so much filler that my ears were deadened before I could enjoy the few compositions I would have otherwise appreciated.

Brooklyn Rider and Kayhan Kalhor. Photo: Reza Maleki.

I had attempted to spare myself this fate by researching BR to make sure I was part of the target audience. I perused their website and listened to their 2017 release of Philip Glass’s String Quartets 6 & 7. Now admittedly, I didn’t seek out Brooklyn Rider’s music with Kalhor or Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen’s compositions, both included in this particular show. But the signs seemed promising: A recent release of new music from a composer I enjoy (if not necessarily those specific works); a review hailing them as the “future of chamber music” (Strings magazine 2010); Kronos Quartet being considered a “similar artist” on their Spotify page, possibly for their release of Glass quartets; a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette description that called them “four classical musicians performing with the energy of young rock stars jamming on their guitars, a Beethoven-goes-indie foray into making classical music accessible but also celebrating why it was good in the first place.”

But Brooklyn Rider’s marketed image didn’t align with the actual programmatic flatlining I experienced. It’s true that Brooklyn Rider is accessible and “why it was good in the first place” is subjective, but there was no “rockstar” energy emanating from the stage. A “rockstar” implies a larger-than-life persona, a personality that seems irresistibly engaging, and the energy to sell that image so effectively the audience believes it’s who you really are. A “rockstar” knows they are not just performing separate musical pieces, but that a concert is one singular performance from the moment you step on stage to the moment the curtain drops, and if you’re not holding the audience’s attention, you’re losing it.