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: Ryan Streber

Editing, Mixing, Mastering: 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.


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

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] Sabat 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 "Sabat 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 Melissa 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 Sabat (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, Gapplegate Classical Modern Music Review, 1.7.20

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