Elegant, Serpentine Chamber Pop with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn

by delarue

It’s hard to imagine that the String Orchestra of Brooklyn is ten years old this year. From the looks of some of the group’s members this past evening at le Poisson Rouge, if they’d been around since day one, they would have been in grade school then. This time out, the irrepressible ensemble backed a series of soloists straddling the worlds of indie classical and rock in a program that was more verdantly fresh and vivid than it was awash in the kind of lushly enveloping, dreamy sonics that strings orchestras are typically known for. A celebration of singles rather than an album of them, the program bookended often unpredictably knotty material around violinist Michi Wiancko‘s warmly minimal, poignant canon of a centerpiece, That Knock Is For Me (her first composition, she said), her cellist brother Paul adding a stark precision as he played standing up, as one would a kamancheh or erhu fiddle.

The New York premiere of William Brittelle‘s labyrinthine, surprise-packed, intricately dynamic mini-suite Canyons Curved Burgundy, was sung with moody resonance by Wye Oak guitarist Jenn Wasner, a frequent Brittelle collaborator. At the end, she went to her knees to elegantly tremolo-pick upper-register chords that were more raindroplets than dreampop washes. Her fellow guitarist Aaron Roche sang falsetto, off mic most of the time, so his harmonies often weren’t very present in the mix. Of his works on the bill, the most memorable was the slowly swaying, pensively 70s Britfolk-tinged Wooden Knife.

Wasner’s Everything Is Happening Today – scheduled for release on Flock of Dimes‘ debut album, due out next month – followed a more vigorous series of tangents, similar to Brittelle’s first piece. The group closed with his new single, Dream Has No Sacrifice, its central mantra within what by now had become an expectedly shapeshifting string arrangement replete with peek-a-boo voicings. Brittelle’s music in general is very translucent, so hearing him explain that the trials of fatherhood had sent him into a tailspin of jumping through some unnecessarily complicated hoops was quite a surprise. This, obviously, was a return to form, and despite its outward simplicity – “My Brightest Diamond on valium,” one wag observed – hardly easy to play.

A quiet, determined triumph for the soloists, who also included Robert Fleitz on electric piano and keyboards and Owen Weaver on syndrums – and the orchestra, whose members this time out also comprised violinists Gina Dyches, Quyen Le, Eric Shieh, Allison Dubinski, Shawn Barnett and Matthew Lau; violists Emily Bookwalter, Joseph Dermody and Brian Thompson; cellists Ken Hashimoto and Aya Terki; and bassists Luiz Bacchi, Valerie Whitney and Morton Cahn

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn’s next performance is at Bargemusic on Sept. 11 at 4 PM as part of a memorial concert, where they’ll be playing Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The concert is free, but early arrival is a must.