For more than 40 years, Carnegie Hall has offered a series of free Neighborhood Concerts at theaters, libraries and community centers in all five boroughs. For many, these concerts - which run the gamut from classical, to jazz, to world music - are the only opportunity they have to hear some of the same world class music that graces the stage(s) of 57th and 7th on a nightly basis.
Somehow, in all my years of NYC concertgoing, I've never managed to make it to one of these neighborhood concerts. Until last Sunday, when LA's Calder Quartet played a free show at the Brooklyn Central Library. The concert, which was held in the library's subterranean Dweck Center, drew a large crowd, obviously familiar with the Calder's reputation as one of this country's finest working quartets. (There was a bit of a snafu when most patrons showed up without seat reservations, but to Carnegie's credit, they were able to seat everyone who turned up.)
Unlike Calder's collaborations with Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth or Dan Deacon, this was a straight-up recital, featuring a trio of works that ranged from early 20th century to early 21st. Andrew Norman's melodic, pointillistic Sabina (2009) seemed to emerge from nowhere, slowly building in passionate intensity like the Roman sunrise that inspired it.
Following was Thomas Adès' Arcadiana (1994), which Norman and several other composers have cited as inspiration for their own music. "I’m on a concert with the greatest string quartet composed in the last 50 years!” Norman told Calder violinist Andrew Bulbrook. I won't go that far, but it was a fascinating portait in seven movements, played without pause and featuring colorful titles such as "Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schön" ("That sounds so wonderful, That sounds so nice", a quote from Mozart's Magic Flute).
The concert ended with Ravel's Quartet in F Major, which has become one of the staples of the quartet repertoire. It has it all: tender lyricism, rich chromaticism, sadness, joy, passion, quiet. Here, the Calders showed the full range of their talent, plucking away with absolute precision, building to a furious pace in the brilliant finale ("Vif et agité"). Free or not, this was music played at the highest level.