When you hire a new music director, it helps a lot if he also has a brother who can step in as your violin soloist. That’s what happened to the Northwest Sinfonietta last week, when Mae Lin, the scheduled violin soloist for this weekend’s concerts in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup, had an accident that landed her in the emergency room. While Lin will recover, she wasn’t fit to play a concerto.
But luckily for the chamber orchestra, conductor Eric Jacobsen — the first of three co-directors in the orchestra’s new leadership model — happens to have a brother who’s a concert violinist. Colin Jacobsen will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor this weekend under his brother’s direction, in a program that also includes some new Taiwanese compositions.
“I felt great because I love playing with Colin, but I also felt horrible for Mae,” said Eric Jacobsen on the phone from his Brooklyn, New York, home. “I was looking forward to playing with her — we were in the same year at Juilliard. But there’ll be another time; I’m committed to it and so is the orchestra.”
Colin and Eric, four years apart in age, have played together for a long time, including in their contemporary string quartet Brooklyn Rider (Eric plays cello) and in the indie chamber orchestra they co-founded, the Knights. Luckily for the Northwest Sinfonietta, Colin also is a composer and had set aside this week to work on some commissions — and so could step in to play when Lin was injured.
It’s a win-win situation for both the orchestra, which is embarking on a new leadership model that emphasizes chamber playing and musician-led decisions — the fifth such in the world — and the audience, who will get to see the Jacobsen partnership in action.
“He’s my older brother, so I’ve always looked to him for so much musically,” explains Eric. “But it’s very symbiotic. Of course we have disagreements, everyone does, but the real thing is that we have mutual respect. That’s the basis of the relationship. We’re very lucky in that we do see eye to eye.
“Playing music together in a consistent way so much of the year is like a marriage: 95 percent of what you do has to be the same. The other 5 percent is the real strategy. It’s a challenge, but that’s the beauty: the process of seeing, of meeting, of carrying out someone else’s vision.”
The Sinfonietta also lucked out in choosing a co-director who knew a lot about Taiwanese music. Inspired by a similar program last year, the organization decided to structure the program around Taiwanese compositions, asking Jacobsen to choose some. The two on the program are Mingxing Du’s “Springtime Hills” and Che-yi Lee’s “Green Island Serenade,” both pentatonic-based arrangements of Taiwanese folksongs.
“I decided on these two totally gorgeous folk songs,” explained Jacobsen. “Simplicity is often hard to achieve, but in simplicity is beauty, and these composers achieved that. ... It’s actually similar to Mendelssohn, though a totally different time period and (genre). Mendelssohn explored simplicity in his own work.”
The other piece in the program is Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7.