Music A cosmic connection
The Greater Bridgeport Symphony celebrates the 50th anniversary of NASA’s first lunar landing, a historical milestone in space exploration some audience members will remember firsthand. But not the dynamic brothers featured on the symphony’s opening concert: Music director Eric Jacobsen is 36, and his brother Colin, the violin soloist, is only four years older.
Fortunately, outer space served as a fascination for countless composers and the brothers are steeped in the repertoire. They grew up practicing music under the acute ears of their father, a former violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
“In art, culture, literature, music, the cosmos is relatively immediate,” Eric assures. “You don’t even have to search really far to find the music of the cosmos by composers.”
The season launches off on Sept. 22 with the thunderous fanfare of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” linked to space through its iconic appearance in the classic film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Holst’s vivid musical portrait of “The Planets,” an obvious example, is programmed as the season’s ending showstopper. Digital samples of JFK’s speech celebrating the moon landing will be overlaid atop the orchestra for a recently composed Mason Bates work called “Passage 18” in November.
As brothers, Eric and Colin share a cosmic connection on stage. They are longtime musical partners, together founding both The Knights, a radical chamber orchestra based in New York City, and Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet shattering preconceived notions of genre. (Eric, who plays the cello, left the quartet two years ago.) Additionally, they both perform in the Silk Road Ensemble, a diverse ensemble focused on cross-cultural musical collaboration, founded by the esteemed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Plus, they live in the same Park Slope, Brooklyn, building.
Together they bring a fresh outlook to classical music.
Eric describes their on-stage connection as one so natural they are in sync without trying.
“Every once in a while there’s this beautiful thing that happens which is that your bow is not your bow anymore,” says Eric. “Colin will take an up-bow and change to a down-bow quickly — faster than I thought he was going to — and your bow does the same thing. And the question is how? How does your bow become more powerful in terms of choice than your brain?
“Now I often will conduct and he’ll play and I still feel a very similar connection. When he’s phrasing towards something or away from something, he shows it to me before it happens.”
Colin characterizes their on-stage relationship as “high contact,” as brothers are. Despite that younger brother Eric is the larger and stronger of the two, Colin says he still holds the “older brother edge” mentally on the tennis court and ping-pong table.
Though interviewed separately, they both cited a performance last year in Orlando of the Brahms Double Concerto as a culmination of their careers. Eric was conducting his brother and the Ma, a mentor to them since the early 2000s. The work, fittingly, is about brotherly love. “There was a lot of that going around,” says Colin.
It will be Colin’s second solo appearance with the GBS. The first was for Eric’s inaugural season as music director, five years ago. Colin attributes Eric’s success as a music director to their youth: their father would bring his Metropolitan Opera colleagues back home for impromptu, late-night chamber music readings and allow the boys to stay up late to listen.
“Music was a party and we wanted to take part as soon as we could,” he says. “Eric does a wonderful job of that with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony, hosting concerts and trying to create a sense that you’re in the orchestra’s living room and you’re welcomed in.”
For his upcoming GBS performance, Colin will perform Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, dubbed the “The Turkish” for Mozart’s use of an exotic theme in the final movement, and Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” based on a poem depicting the song of a skylark. Neither work is new but Colin is focused on making it sound alive to the moment.
“Look at “Lark Ascending;” it’s a vision of countryside and nature and anit-industrialist sentiment, similar to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” at the time,” he says. “With Mozart, you have someone who was writing music at the birth of democracy. All the values within are encoded in the music. It’s all there.”
On the season’s theme, GBS Executive Director Mark Halstead also focused on the relevancy of celebrating space travel in fractured times.
“You look back to a time starting with Kennedy and the Mercury program and the hopefulness of what was going on at the time,” he says. “You hear about the landing on the moon and what it did for the world, it brought the whole world together. We hope in a small way we can do that.”
Concert Info: Greater Bridgeport Symphony, 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, The Klein Memorial Auditorium, 910 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport, 06605. Tickets: $15-59; www.bptsym.org, 203-576-0263.
Anna Reguero is a freelance writer.