Last night I heard an interview show on the radio that featured some of the members of Brooklyn Rider. The point of the show was to introduce this particular string quartet as a group of musicians who are saving classical music because they are making it appealing to young people. The host was gushing away about how much he loved the way they were revitalizing music, and how the music they played transformed him. He went on and on. The musicians went on and on also, answering telephone calls from people young and old who echoed the feelings of the interviewer. There were planted questions (or at least they sounded planted) asking about their relationships with people on college campuses, and asking them to describe the responses of the audiences they played for during their recent Asian tour.
These people do have excellent technique, and they can move around their instruments at great speeds, and with great precision. In addition to some of their modal improvisations (inspired by Mediterranean and Balkan traditional music), the host played a bit of a slow movement from Brooklyn Rider's recording of Beethoven Opus 131. It was played without vibrato, and very well in tune. The musicians played it without the usual long-lined phrasing that string quartet musicians spend a lifetime (or four) trying to deliver to audiences and to one another. It was as dull. Is the way to engage the hearts of young people to look counter cultural (dress like a hipster) and play Beethoven without trying to make long phrases and give color to the sound? Is the trick to bore them?
Then there was a bit about Bartok, and the host went on and on about how this music was so new. I love Bartok, particularly his string quartets, but his Second String Quartet (that's the one they sampled in the show) is almost 100 years old. Yes, like Haydn, Bartok will always be "new" in spirit, but it's still the new music of the Brooklyn Riders' grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
Perhaps the worst part of the show was the discussion they had about Bartok's visit to Nigeria, and how it affected the rhythms in his music. Bartok did travel to Tangier in 1906 and in 1913. Tangier is in Morocco, and was a hot vacation spot during the first decades of the 20th century; but the mix of cultures there would have been totally different from anything you would find in Nigeria. Bartok would have had no reason to travel to Nigeria.
I can understand how a non-musical radio host might mix up Tangier and Nigeria, since both are on the continent of Africa; but the musicians should have known better.
I would have not written this post if one of the musicians simply said, "I think you mean Tangier."