Violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen is “one of the most interesting figures on the classical music scene” (Washington Post). An eclectic composer who draws on a range of influences, he was named one of the top 100 composers under 40 by NPR listeners. He is also active as an Avery Fisher Career Grant-winning soloist and a touring member of Yo-Yo Ma’s famed Silk Road Ensemble. For his work as a founding member of two game-changing, audience-expanding ensembles – the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and orchestra The Knights – Jacobsen was recently selected from among the nation’s top visual, performing, media, and literary artists to receive a prestigious and substantial United States Artists Fellowship.
In 2005, the violinist founded Brooklyn Rider with violinist Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords, and his brother, cellist Eric Jacobsen. Hailed as “one of the wonders of contemporary music” (Los Angeles Times), the quartet combines true new-music chops and genre-bending innovation with an equal mastery of the classics. Together its members have presented a wealth of world premieres and toured extensively across North America, Asia and Europe, in venues ranging from clubs and rock festivals to Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. The group’s artistic partnerships span the musical spectrum from Philip Glass and Osvaldo Golijov to John Zorn, and from singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega to banjo legend Béla Fleck and Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man. Brooklyn Rider’s recordings Passport, Dominant Curve and Seven Steps all made NPR’s best-of-the-year lists; the group’s Silent City, its collaboration with Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, was named one of Rhapsody’s Best World Music Albums of the Decade; and with Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass, the four musicians proved themselves “stunning interpreters” (Time Out Chicago) of the composer’s music. In 2006, they founded Minnesota’s Stillwater Music Festival as a place to unveil new repertoire and collaborations, and the quartet enjoys educational residencies at Dartmouth College, UNC Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas-Austin.
It was to foster the intimacy and camaraderie of chamber music on the orchestral stage that Jacobsen and his brother, conductor and cellist Eric Jacobsen, founded The Knights. As the New Yorker reports, “few ensembles are as adept at mixing old music with new as the dynamic young Brooklyn orchestra.” The “consistently inventive, infectiously engaged indie ensemble” (New York Times) has appeared at New York venues ranging from Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the 92nd Street Y to Central Park and (Le) Poisson Rouge, storied concert halls worldwide including Dresden Musikfestspiele, Cologne Philharmonie, Düsseldorf Tonhalle, and National Gallery of Dublin. The orchestra recently added an all-Beethoven album to its Sony Classical discography, their third on the label, with Jacobsen as soloist with Jan Vogler and Antti Siirala in the Triple Concerto. The Knights’ discography also includes Jan Vogler and The Knights Experience: Live from New York, juxtaposing Shostakovich with Jimi Hendrix; New Worlds, a celebration of the Americas that features works by Copland, Ives, Dvorák, Golijov, and Gabriela Lena Frank; and A Second in Silence, pairing Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony with the minimalism of Philip Glass, Erik Satie, and Morton Feldman. We Are The Knights, a documentary film produced by Thirteen/WNET and hosted by Paula Zahn, premiered in September 2011.
Colin Jacobsen’s work as a composer developed as a natural outgrowth of his chamber and orchestral collaborations. Jointly inspired by encounters with leading exponents of non-Western traditions and by his own classical heritage, his writing reveals an eclectic personal voice with a “knack for spinning lines with an elasticity that sounds uncannily like improvisation” (New York Times). Among Jacobsen’s most notable compositions for Brooklyn Rider are Brooklesca, an homage to his Brooklyn home; Beloved, do not let me be discouraged…, as heard on the quartet’s acclaimed recording with Kayhan Kalhor; and Achille’s Heel, which is showcased on Dominant Curve. His most recent compositions for the group include Three Miniatures – “vivacious, deftly drawn sketches” (New York Times), which were written for the reopening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Islamic art galleries. Jacobsen collaborated with Iran’s Siamak Aghaei to write a Persian folk-inflected composition, Ascending Bird, which he performed as soloist with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, in a concert that was streamed live by millions of viewers worldwide. His work for dance and theater includes music for Compagnia de’ Colombari’s theatrical production of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.
As a touring member of Yo-Yo Ma’s venerated Silk Road Project since its founding in 2000, Jacobsen has participated in residencies and performances at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hollywood Bowl, and across the U.S., as well as in Azerbaijan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and Switzerland. Highlights of his journeys with the ensemble include performances in front of the world’s largest wooden Buddha statue in Nara, Japan; as part of Lincoln Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations; at the opening of the Shanghai Special Olympics; and at the Red Fort in Agra, India. He appears on all six of the Silk Road Ensemble’s albums.
As a violin soloist, Jacobsen was “born to the instrument and its sweet, lyrical possibilities” (New York Times). He has collaborated with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, and has premiered concertos by Kevin Beavers and Lisa Bielawa. He has performed with such prominent artists as Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis, Yo-Yo Ma, Christian Tetzlaff, Mitsuko Uchida, and composer Tan Dun, with whom he toured China. With Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters as narrator, Jacobsen recently performed Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. He has regularly appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, at Bargemusic, and as a member of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert, besides enjoying cross-disciplinary explorations with dance and theater companies including the New York City Ballet, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. His numerous summer festival engagements include Caramoor, Marlboro, Mostly Mozart, Moritzburg, Ravinia, Salzburg, Tanglewood and Taiwan’s National Concert Hall.
A graduate of the Juilliard School and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, Jacobsen’s principal teachers have included Doris Rothenberg, Louise Behrend, Robert Mann and Vera Beths. He received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2003.
Colin Jacobsen plays a Joseph Guarneri filius Andreae violin dating back from 1696 and a Samuel Zygmuntowicz violin made in 2008.
Photo by Erin Baiano