New York in Potsdam: Anne Sofie von Otter & Brooklyn Rider at the Nikolaisaal

I headed out to Potsdam’s Nikolaisaal on Friday night, a slightly out-of-the-way location in which to find both the legendary mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter, and star New York string quartet, Brooklyn Rider. On the programme was an eclectic mix from the quartet’s last few recordings, including the German premiere of Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 7 from last month’s Glass album and songs from So Many Things, their 2016 collaboration with Von Otter.

The evening satisfyingly combined virtuosity with a laid-back charm. Von Otter charismatically introduced most of the works, sometimes with asides and questions to the quartet members. Her warm tone threaded its way through the diverse repertoire, whether it was lending its clarity to Caroline Shaw’s troubadour-inspired Cant voi l’aube, giving a honeyed, jazzy edge to Elvis Costello or curling out lines of digits in Kyle Sanna’s zippy arrangement of Kate Bush’s Pi.

Interestingly, though, it felt like the real heart of the concert came from the three works by Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen. The audience, who I’d imagine were mostly drawn there by Von Otter’s classical standing, were confronted with these pieces and really got behind them. For Sixty Cents, a coffee shop musing based around a Lydia Davis text, was a delight to watch. BTT from the recent Spontaneous Symbols album was almost interrupted by applause and then met with cheers at its close, as was Exit from 2014’s Brooklyn Rider Almanac, the second of three encores that night.

The versatility and openness that drive Brooklyn Rider’s projects is something that I think is yet to really develop in the new music scenes of major German cities (it’s an altogether different world of contemporary music to this Ensemble Modern concert, for example). Certainly, the evening for me emphasised how invigorating for both audiences and musicians the unselfconscious crossing of roles and genres can be.

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