String Orchestra of Brooklyn: afterimage


The String Orchestra of Brooklyn releases "afterimage," an album featuring two works written for the ensemble by Christopher Cerrone and Jacob Cooper that respond to older works by Paganini and Pergolesi respectively. Featuring the Argus Quartet and vocal soloists Mellissa Hughes and Kate Maroney, "afterimage" refracts older repertoire through a modern lens using a familiar and time honored format, the string orchestra.


The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB), led by conductor Eli Spindel, releases its debut album afterimage on Friday, January 17, 2020 on Furious Artisans. The record features 2020 Grammy-nominated composer Christopher Cerrone’s High Windows featuring the SOB and the Argus Quartet; Jacob Cooper’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa featuring soprano Mellissa Hughes, mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney, and the SOB; Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 6 in G minor "The Trill / Tremolo" (Lento) featuring violinist Rachel Lee Priday; and the first movement of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa.”

Of the release, SOB conductor Eli Spindel says, “Recorded in 2016 and now released in 2020, afterimage features some of String Orchestra of Brooklyn’s favorite long-time collaborators. Jacob Cooper's Stabat Mater and Christopher Cerrone's High Windows take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and––through processes of repetition, distortion, and, in the case of the Stabat Mater, extreme slow-motion––create a completely new soundscape, like opening up a small door into an unfamiliar world. We hope you find them as beautifully disorienting as we do.”

Christopher Cerrone’s High Windows (2013), co-commissioned by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn and the Toomai String Quintet, was inspired by the windows of St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn, the space in which the piece was first performed, and also refers to a Philip Larkin poem in which the author sums up the tumult of his youth. Cerrone reflects, “High Windows was a piece written for friends: Eli Spindel and I were neighbors at the time and I’m a longtime collaborator of the original soloists and co-commissioners, the Toomai String Quintet. I knew the church where the work would be premiered and the specific skills and strengths of the orchestra. There are many things in High Windows that are old: the opening of the piece samples a fragment from one of Paganini’s Caprices (No. 6 in G minor), the central section quotes an older piece of mine (Hoyt–Schermerhorn, for piano and electronics), and perhaps most prominently, High Windows is a sonata, a musical form which originated in the 17th century. In using these old elements and putting them in a familiar order, I strove to create recognizable signposts to guide the listener through the distinct sections of the piece. As a result, the focus becomes not these distinct sections, but rather the interaction between them: how they fit together, commingle, and discretely evolve and resolve. More than anything, though, the piece is an exercise in mixing these disparate elements—high and low, allusion and abstraction—to make something new.”

Jacob Cooper says, “When I wrote Stabat Mater Dolorosa (2009) a decade ago, I was fascinated by empirical studies that suggest we experience an extreme slowing-down of time at the moment of (near-)death—a car suspended in the air during a violent crash, or a slip down a steep rock face, creating a sense of eternal present. I decided to transfer this concept of temporal hyper-magnification to music, using a time-stretched version of the first movement of Pergolesi’s 1736 Stabat Mater as a point of departure. While the Stabat Mater text focuses on the Virgin Mary’s grief over Jesus’s death, Stabat Mater Dolorosa piece sheds the Christian framework, adapting the text to contemplate maternal grief more generally while attempting to retain much of what a religious meditation can offer: unencumbered time to reflect, a sense of spirituality, and perhaps, even a brush with transcendence.”

Executive Producers: Emily Bookwalter, Eli Spindel

Recording Engineer, Editing, Mixing, Mastering: Ryan Streber

Edit and Mix Producers: Ryan Streber; Eli Spindel; Emily Bookwalter; Ken Hashimoto, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Rachel Lee Priday

Album Artwork: Molly Spindel Flomer

String Orchestra of Brooklyn

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn is a unique community of musicians who come together in a supportive environment to enrich the life of our communities through music. Embracing an inclusive approach to music-making, the SOB seeks to democratize both the production and reception of concert music. Founded in 2007 by artistic director Eli Spindel, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn is “quickly solidifying its role as a major orchestral figure in the borough. Incredible displays of artistry, superb programming, and a commitment to commissioning new works make the String Orchestra of Brooklyn a force to be reckoned with.” (I Care if You Listen). The SOB provides an enriching creative outlet to hundreds of musicians, and accessible, adventurous programming to thousands of concertgoers and community members in Brooklyn and beyond.



NPR Best Music of 2020: January

To move forward, you need to look back sometimes. Composer Christopher Cerrone, in his swirling and contemplative piece High Windows, riffs off a 215-year-old Paganini caprice, while Jacob Cooper channels an 18th-century vocal work for his mesmerizing, slow-motion Stabat Mater Dolorosa.

-Tom Huizenga, 1.31.2020, NPR Best Music of 2020


The WholeNote

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB)’s conductor Eli Spindel says of the group’s debut CD release "afterimage" (Furious Artisans FACD6823 “The featured works […] take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and – through processes of repetition, distortion, and in the case of the Stabat Mater, extreme slow motion – create a completely new soundscape, like opening a small door into an unfamiliar world.” The disc begins with Christopher Cerrone’s High Windows, based on Paganini’s Caprice No.6 in G Minor. Scored for string quartet and string orchestra, the SOB is joined on this recording by the Argus Quartet. The 13-minute work examines a fragment of the Paganini as under a microscope and also draws on material from an earlier Cerrone piece for piano and electronics. The title refers to the windows of the church in which the premiere performance took place. Although this is the SOB’s first recording, they were founded in 2007 and the second work is Jacob Cooper’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa which was written for them in 2009. Taking Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater as its point of departure, the 27-minute work incorporates two singers as does the original. It takes patience to listen to the extremely slow unfolding of this careful examination of one of the most gorgeous works of early 18th-century vocal repertoire. If you are able to suspend your disbelief, it’s well worth the journey. The disc also includes the original works that inspired Cerrone and Cooper. Violinist Rachel Lee Priday performs Paganini’s solo caprice and soprano Mellissa Hughes and mezzo Kate Maroney shine in a more traditional interpretation of the first movement of Pergolesi’s masterpiece to complete the disc. My only quibble with this recording is the order of presentation. I’m sure much thought went into the decision to put the new works first and the old works last, but after several listenings I find I prefer to hear the Paganini first to set the stage for Cerrone’s tribute, then the Cooper, with Pergolesi last to really bring us home.

-David Olds, 1.27.2020, The WholeNote

— David Olds, 1.27.2020


Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

A recurring element in the most Modern of New Music channels I have been calling "the Old in the New," referring to composers of today re-appropriating or being inspired by earlier music in a process that one way or another transforms older stylistic elements into a newly minted kind of Modernity. With the New Year we have another interesting example in Afterimage (Furious Artisans FACD 6823). On it the Brooklyn String Orchestra under Eli Spindel presents the music of Christopher Cerrone and Jacob Cooper--based in whole or in part on music by, respectively, Niccolo Paganini and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.

The key is what "based on" is all about, naturally. Each work seeks a somewhat different way of transforming the past. As Eli Spindel aptly puts it in the liner notes to the album, both "take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and--through processes of repetition, distortion, and, in the case of [Pergolesi's] Stabat Mater, extreme slow motion--create a completely new soundscape, like opening up a small door into an unfamiliar world."

To open the program Christopher Cerrone begins his "High Windows" by making use of a sampled fragment of Paganini's Caprice No. 6 "The Trill" for Solo Violin. It forms the initial moment of the extended work for the Argus Quartet and the String Orchestra of Brooklyn. But then the middle section quotes from an earlier Cerrone work ("Hoyt--Schermerhorn" for piano and electronics) and ultimately thrives as an independent composition based on traditional Sonata Form--but also draws connotations from a poem by Philip Larkin about tumultuous youth.

The multi-strandedness of meaning is further underscored as the whole expresses the composer's inspiration from the stained-glass windows of St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, the initial venue for which the piece was written and performed. Three separate sections unfold and ultimately have their say.

Ultimately it is all about the musical and personal friendships and artistic commingling that occurred as composer, orchestra, conductor and the original small group (the Toomai String Quintet) involved themselves in the work. Virtually all were initially engaged as both colleagues and friends, then grew into the work in workshops where sections of the score were hammered out. There followed a further articulation of the actuality of the music through the four public performances that have taken place since the work was completed after that gestation period of 2013. And now of course there is this recording as a further development.

The second and more lengthy of the two works here, Jacob Cooper's Pergolesi-based "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" (2009) is a vast time stretching and alteration/transformation of the original Baroque score to become like a moment stopped in time, like a virtually endless experience of the moment of life departure, like the maternal grief of Mary on the death of Jesus, only de-sacralized to a secular inner being of sorts. The vocal parts for soprano and mezzo-soprano, nicely handled by Mellissa Hughes and Kate Maroney, segue with the endlessly pivoting orchestra around sustained progression points nearly stopped in time and space. It is exceedingly beautiful.

Finishing off the program and letting us take stock of what came before are the real-time performances of the fragments involved in the works--the Paganini Trill Caprice (with the solo violin part well played by Rachel Lee Priday) and the single movement from Pergolesi's Stabat (performed by Hughes, Maroney and the SOB). And so we come full circle back to a real-time past after a lengthy excursion through suspended presents, through multiple moments of now.

It is a rather extraordinary program in a rather extraordinary performance. Kudos!

-Grego Edwards, 1.7.20, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review



The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB) and its conductor Eli Spindel couldn't have chosen a better programme for its debut album, recorded in 2016 but only now seeing release. Rather than present interpretations of unrelated early and contemporary works, the company selected pieces that connect brilliantly. Christopher Cerrone's High Windows (2013) and Jacob Cooper's Stabat Mater Dolorosa (2009) are followed by the two pieces to which they're respectively tied, Niccolò Paganini's Caprice No. 6, written in the early 1800s, and the first movement of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's 1736 work, Stabat Mater, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa.” Effectively articulating what the contemporary works do, Spindel says they “take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and—through processes of repetition, distortion, and, in the case of the Stabat Mater, extreme slow-motion—create a completely new soundscape, like opening up a small door into an unfamiliar world.” SOB's augmented on afterimage by special guests, the Argus Quartet for Cerrone's, soprano Mellissa Hughes and mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney for Cooper's, and Maroney again for the Pergolesi; the orchestra rests, on the other hand, for the Paganini, with violinist Rachel Lee Priday performing alone. The cumulative results are, in a word, stunning.

When a mournful theme appears that's as stirring as any by Arvo Pärt, it's not hard to understand why High Windows has become one of Cerrone's most popular and performed works. Drawing for inspiration from both the windows of St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn and a Philip Larkin poem, the thirteen-minute sonata incorporates a fragment from Paganini's Caprice into its opening section before a quote from one of Cerrone's own, Hoyt-Schermerhorn, emerges at the work's centre. Opening with swirling trills emblematic of the early Caprice, the material instantly captivates; it's the elegiac section that follows, however, that's the most stirring. As ghostly string figures establish atmosphere, the sorrowful theme makes its first appearance, the potency of its anguished expression as it builds in intensity impossible to resist.

High Windows sets an effective stage for Cooper's incredible Stabat Mater Dolorosa, which was inspired in part by the composer's fascination with empirical studies examining the extreme temporal arrestation that occurs when someone's involved in a near-death experience, be it a car crash or elevator plummet. Wanting to explore the concept in his own work, Cooper applied time-stretching to the first movement of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. The treatment gives the twenty-eight-minute performance a quality vaguely similar to the digitally time-slowed versions of songs producers have posted to YouTube, 800%-elongated makeovers of The Beatles' “Because” and Pink Floyd's “Breathe,” for instance. In all such cases, the character of the original is radically transformed, even if audible traces of it remain. What separates Cooper's treatment of Stabat Mater apart, however, is that it's executed in real-time and thus all the more captivating for being so. In its slow, incremental rise and supplicating tone, it also shares certain properties with Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, but don't mistake Stabat Mater Dolorosa for a derivative exercise. Cooper's piece stands up on its own magnificently, so much so one could picture concertgoers completely enthralled during its presentation.

In its opening part, string tones stretch out for seemingly minutes on end, each phrase adding to the accumulating mass as a meditative, reverential mood is instated, the tone consistent with text concerned with maternal grief. Like the strings, the singers' voices stretch out, each syllable of the Latin material extended to an imagined breaking point, until the closing minutes where vocalizing's delivered at a more conventional tempo. In this slow-motion treatment, episodes occur where the arrangement reduces to a skeletal core before building up again, and shifts in melody transpire so slowly every fluctuation in pitch can be monitored. Occasional tonal dissonances lend the piece a woozy, even somewhat sickly quality that in a strange way enhances this remarkable rendering of Cooper's creation.

Nicknamed “The Trill” for clearly audible reasons, Paganini's Caprice No. 6 is given a powerful solo reading by Priday, the violinist deftly voicing tremolo in the left hand while articulating the melody with the right in the five-minute performance. Though brief at three-and-a-half minutes, Pergolesi's own "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" is distinguished by the elegant intertwining of Hughes and Maroney' voices and the stately backdrop provided by the SOB. Interesting too that the tone of the original sounds so bright, buoyant, and carefree when heard next to the time-stretched version.

In sequencing the forty-nine-minute release as they did, Spindel and company bestow extra attention on the contemporary works—which shouldn't be interpreted to suggest Pergolesi's and Paganini's are mere footnotes, as they aren't. An alternate sequencing that would have seen the early pieces respectively precede the ones to which they're tied would have provided a fascinating listening experience too, such an order allowing for the relationships between them to be more immediately heard. No matter: the material as presented is ravishing and its realization by the orchestra and its guests breathtaking, and a more rewarding debut release by an ensemble would be hard to imagine.

-Ron Schepper, 1.29.2020, textura



In live performances, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn has promoted contemporary music but also sought to "democratize" the concertgoing experience, in part by playing familiar music. On "Afterimage", the orchestra's debut release, the group takes a simple, innovative approach to the problem: it includes two historical works, the Caprice No. 6 for solo violin in G minor ("The Trill") of Paganini, and the first movement of the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi, preceded by contemporary treatments of these works. The term "remix" isn't included in the graphics, but it may be relevant. For Stabat Mater Dolorosa, composer Jacob Cooper's take on the Pergolesi, one may more readily think of Notre Dame organum, with its vastly stretched-out choral structures based on segments on Gregorian chant. Cooper takes seven minutes to even get to the beginning of the text, and early minimalist textures are in evidence, but a link in mood with the Pergolesi persists, and putting the new works ahead of their models, which at first seems annoying, works at a basic musical level. The same is true of Christopher Cerrone's High Windows, which deconstructs the Paganini Caprice. The String Orchestra of Brooklyn, an all-volunteer group, holds up under the considerable pressure of the 27-minute Cooper work, and in general, this is an appealing example of the work of new composers who are trying to forge connections with historical classical repertory.

— James Manheim, AllMusic, 2.4.20


Midwest Record

When contemporary classical doesn’t sound like pots and pans music, it’s a win. When it sounds like something that could have been in “Star Wars” when John Williams wanted to let some new kids take a crack at it, that’s a bigger win. Building the future by building on the past, this serious bunch of players does a fine job of expanding the lexicon and taking things to the next level. A serious work that doesn’t intimidate, this is not for eggheads only.

– Chris Spector, 12.23.19, Midwest Record


Music for Several Instruments

"A story is an operation on duration, an enchantment that affects the flow of time, contracting it or expanding it." In his fourth lecture in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino discusses "Quickness", and finds in literature a motive force that speeds up and/or slows down our perception of time.

"A writer's labor involves keeping track of different times: Mercury's time and Vulcan's time; a message of spontaneity obtained by means of patient, meticulous adjustments; a flash of insight that immediately takes on the finality of that which was inevitable; and also time that flows for no reason other than to allow feelings and thoughts to settle and ripen, unfettered by any impatience, any fleeting contingency."

If literature involves these temporal operations, how much more can music do, entwined as it is with its own built-in passage of time. When Jacob Cooper wrote Stabat Mater Dolorosa (2009), his gloss on Pergolesi's great 18th century choral work, he was thinking in particular of Tachypsychia, the alteration of the perception of time due to various physiological states, most notably life-threatening events, when time can seem to stand still. Cooper stretches out Pergolesi's beautiful phrases, exaggerating the already meditative music until it sounds almost like a kind of hallucinatory chanting. I'm sure that Cooper was aware of the legend that Pergolesi wrote the Stabat Mater on his own deathbed, and that none other than Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his own remix of the Pergolesi original: his parody cantata Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden. So the composer is doubling down, and in doing so has created a classic work for the 21st century. This performance of Cooper's work, along with the first movement of the Pergolesi original, is so impressive. The String Orchestra of Brooklyn, under the sensitive direction of Conductor Eli Spindel, are completely solid in Cooper's long, long phrases, but properly stylish in the Pergolesi. The two vocal soloists, soprano Mellissa Hughes and mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney, likewise navigate with aplomb these stylistic changes, from Pergolesi's idiosyncratic mixture of the operatic and the sacred, to the other-worldly swoops of Cooper.

Another pair of works make up the rest of the album: Christopher Cerrone's High Windows (2013), along with one of its sources, Nicolo Paganini's Caprice no. 6 in G minor, "The Trill". High Windows is another classic work, which besides its trilling violin reference includes a reference to an earlier Cerrone piece, Hoyt–Schermerhorn. This is no simple pastiche, though, but a work of complex allusions organized in what might seem from a contemporary music perspective to be a surprising way, as a 17th century Sonata. Like a work with which it shares a beautiful aural texture, Edward Elgar's Introduction & Allegro, Cerrone's piece is written for string orchestra and string quartet, and is beautifully played here by the Argus Quartet and the SOB. The title of the work refers to a Philip Larkin poem of the same name, which, like the music, is about dreams and ultimate transcendence. What a challenging, and satisfying project from the String Orchestra of Brooklyn!

— Dean Frey, 1.30.2020


New York Times

When Jacob Cooper wrote this slow-motion take on Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, he was inspired by studies suggesting that time seems to stretch in the final moments before death, like a freeze-frame fall into the abyss. But this exhaustingly poignant work now seems to capture the Covid-specific grief of the bereaved, bereft even of the rituals of mourning. In a 28-minute long dirge, Mr. Cooper takes the opening bars of a gorgeous 18th-century lamentation full of aching harmonic suspensions and renders it in extreme slow motion so that its pulse becomes undetectable.

Suspensions were a favorite expressive device in the Baroque era, created when one of two voices moves a step, creating a temporary dissonance that is resolved when the other voice follows suit, restoring consonance. At normal speed, this creates throbs of delicious tension, more a tease than real discomfort. But at Mr. Cooper’s glacial pace, each dissonance is left hanging so long that it seems to suck the oxygen out of the air. Traditional harmonic motion relies on human memory, the knowledge of where the music started and wants to return. But stretched out like this, a listener loses track of origins, and with it any hope of resolution.

— Corinna da Fonsecca-Wollheim, 5.26.2020


BBC Music Magazine

The new works here take their lead from snippets of the Paganini and Pergolesi pieces which follow. The result is meditative and, in the case of Jacob
Cooper’s Stabat Mater, deeply hypnotic.

— MB, 5.01.2020


New York Music Daily

Although the String Orchestra of Brooklyn have been championing new composers for more than ten years, their debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – only came out late last year. It has two spacious, rather horizontal contemporary pieces alongside a couple of unselfconsciously vigorous Italian Renaissance works, The dynamics and range of the ensemble, as well as the singers, really shine here.

The first piece is Christopher Cerrone‘s High Windows, beginning with shivery sixteenth-notes behind sudden doppler bursts and a low drone. A sudden airy horizontality slowly gains momentum with terse moodiness rising from the low strings, the violins finally descending and joining the lattice. A muted loopiness in the return of the opening theme has icy echoes of electronic music; it ends in a long, somber series of waves.

Jacob Cooper‘s Stabat Mater Dolarosa unfolds at a glacial pace, sheets of sound drifting through the mix, akin to watching cirrus clouds on the horizon on a relatively windless day. Uneasy close harmonies rise and then fade away. The composer’s use of implied melody as the sound rises with an allusive ominousness from the low strings is very clever, especially as a choir enter wordlessly. With the singers sometimes adding harmony, sometimes doubling the violin lines, the atmosphere grows more somber, leading to a long descent into the abyss led by the basses. The rise to density afterward is much more disquieting, with a series of slow, massed glissandos. The effect where the singers have to pause for a breath is, well, breathtaking. Soprano Mellissa Hughes adds stark, plainchant-inspired lines over the waves of the concluding movement

Paganini’s Caprice No. 6 in G minor is actually more of a canon, also built around slowly shifting sustained lines, but with rapidfire, tremoloing violin. The ensemble close the album with a steadfastly marching interpretation of the first movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, the choir enhancing a gothic undercurrent.

— delarue, 5.21.2020


American Record Guide

This is the debut album of the String Orchestra of Brooklyn. The adventurous program juxtaposes two contemporary works with pieces by Paganini and Pergolesi on which they are based. Christopher Cerrone’s ‘High Windows’, modelled on a fragment from Paganini’s Caprice 6 (‘The Trill’), is delicate and poetic, with lots of quiet mutes and open sounds. With its hypnotic repetitions, it sounds more like Arvo Prt than Paganini.

Jacob Cooper’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa, based on a radically slowed-down recreation of the first movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, is grave, somber, and languid, taking 27 minutes for a dozen lines of text. Soprano Mellissa Hughes and mezzo Kate Maroney sound suspended in time with their long, dolorous lines. In both works, the consonant modal harmonies make everything go down easily, if a bit queasily. Conductor Eli Spindel calls these new pieces “beautifully disorienting”, a fair description.

Violinist Rachel Lee Priday plays Paganini’s Caprice 6, ‘The Trill’, with great skill and quivering lyricism. This too is a slow, hypnotic piece and fits well with the contemplative mood of the program. It closes with the “real” first movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Here Hughes and Maroney are allowed to sing normally, with pure, lustrous voices, without distensions and distortions. They project a radiant melancholy, and the SOB (an unfortunate abbreviation) supports them elegantly. This is clearly an ensemble to watch; they play with warmth and conviction in old repertory and new.

— Bruno Repp, 5.24.2020

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