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Brooklyn Rider Visits Charlottesville

The night was young: breeze just enough to raise goosebumps, the front arch of the Jefferson mighty and magnificent against the bustle of the mall. We stamped our tickets and passed through the theater’s front chamber, wide-eyed at the building’s architecture and at its classy bar offering craft beers and wines. Descending the steps to our seats, though, came the first of the night’s many surprises: we dodged two walkers in the aisles to get to the third row, returning polite smiles to the perhaps sixty sets of crow-footed eyes examining us quizzically. Being the millennials we are, we checked the time on our pesky cellular devices. 8:34. The show would start soon.

The wild performance we witnessed was a part of the Charlottesville chamber music festival, an event which stretches from September 8-21 and features some of the foremost domestic and foreign talent in chamber and classical music. Brooklyn Rider played pieces mostly off of their new album “Spontaneous Symbols”, and showcased the music-creating computer program of Timothy Summers during the show’s second act.  

When two violinists, a violist, and the last a cellist took the stage, it all began. Without a word they positioned their bows and delved into the romantic cacophony, the inharmonious ferocity, that is Brooklyn Rider.  After the first song, the viola player, a bearded man who looked as though he wanted to cry, turned to the crowd and asked without a mic who had been to their show the night before. By our count a little over half of the room raised their hands. Taking this opportunity to survey the crowd we observed that almost every member of the audience was either greying or ponytailed.

To begin their second song the violinist stepped forward and informed us that the song was, “about the idea of flying in your dreams. This, I’d say, is not the ideal state to perform this piece.” He chuckled and the audience returned the sentiment with hearty, though perfectly genuine, laughter. The song that followed, representative of our deep subconscious desires for flight, sounded like an argument between a squeaky midget and a guttural fat man interspersed by farts coming from the cellist.

After a fifteen minute intermission a lone bald man came on stage to present a conventional lecture on automatic music, complete with a PowerPoint. He said he had spent twenty some years of his life as a mathematician, but on stage he held a violin. Surely there is some quality of romanticism possessed by those who choose a quantitative profession but devote a large part of their life to a musical art, and this man had it. After explaining the science of violin playing in layman’s terms, he presented  the fruits of his labor: a 20-byte computer program, which he assured us is the size of about half an email, and which can create a vast array of harmony based on intricate byte-location technology.

A beautiful piano piece followed, sounding as though it was being played by an experienced player though he stood before us alone and piano-less. Then, without warning, he began changing the variable in his program. As he did this the piece itself began to change, shifting across octaves and moods though never losing its resonant, harmonic, and aesthetically appealing qualities. The smooth, organized music produced by his program stood in contrast to the chaos of Brooklyn Rider. While these sounds soothed our ears so recently scratched and scarred from jarring music, it also highlighted the beauty and excitement in Brooklyn Rider’s avant-garde stylings. He ended the performance by remarking “I don’t want to pretend that harmony is music […] but I suspect I can make some more nice sounds with it in the future.”

After the show we had the chance to speak with the group’s violist, Nicholas Cords. He related to us how fascinated the band was with other art-forms beyond music, and how the band had changed over the twelve years of its existence. Perhaps what resonated most was his affirmation that the band has an  “appetite for doing new things and trying to stay outside of our comfort level.” This was abundantly clear throughout the show, and lent a new perspective on the band to our uncultured minds.


Emma Karnes and Phineas Alexander are both first-years who make macaroni art every Friday night.