Chris Thile and Mandolin Join Orpheus Ensemble at Carnegie

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Monday March 26, 2012

from The New York Times

A Composer and Virtuoso Dresses Up the Mandolin

Chris Thile and Mandolin Join Orpheus Ensemble at Carnegie
By Allan Kozinn

Is the mandolin about to have its moment as a classical solo instrument? Its repertory back catalog is slim ‘” a couple of Vivaldi concertos and some early Beethoven, most notably, as well as parts in Mahler’s Seventh Symphony and ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ ‘” but its contemporary repertory is colorful and growing.

The venerable Deutsche Grammophon label just signed its first mandolinist, Avi Avital. And now bluegrass, jazz and pop mandolinists are making incursions into classical precincts. Among them, Mike Marshall is touring with his own concerto, and Chris Thile ‘” the instrument’s brightest star at the moment, best known for his work with the bands Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers ‘” was the main draw at the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s concert at Carnegie Hall on Saturday evening.

Mr. Thile was on hand to play the New York premiere of his three-movement Mandolin Concerto (‘Ad Astra per Alas Porci, ‘ or ‘To the Stars on the Wings of a Pig’) as part of a program devoted entirely to American music. He is no mere dabbler. Though his harmonic language is accessible, it also has a mildly acerbic edge that gives his orchestral writing an inviting sense of mystery. And he knows how to surprise: chord progressions that a less imaginative composer would have pushed along predictable paths invariably took unexpected turns, as did the exchanges between the mandolin and the orchestra.

As fresh as the music sounded, it also had an appealing naturalness. Not surprisingly, that was especially so of the mandolin writing. Given the instrument’s soft-spoken nature, even when amplified, the solo line is not the fiery sort you would expect in a violin or piano concerto. Instead, it is built on Mr. Thile’s more subtle brand of virtuosity ‘” a blend of fluid melody, dazzling speed and a command of timbre that made the most of the mandolin’s native wiry sound but also used mellower, bell-like tones closer to those of a harp.

Read the full article here