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Folk Touch: Chris Thile

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Thursday October 11, 2012

from Winston-Salem Journal

Folk Touch: Show Highlights Mandolin
By Ken Keuffel

Robert Moody, the music director of the Winston-Salem Symphony, said he favors programming that shows connections between tried-and-true pieces and something that’s new. He likened this approach to “taking the audience on a journey,” and it will continue next weekend when the orchestra presents “The Miraculous Mandolin: An Evening with Chris Thile” at the Stevens Center.

Thile will solo in the North Carolina premiere of his Concerto for Mandolin: Ad astra per alas porci (to the sky on the wings of a pig), highlighting a program that will also include Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.

The soloists in the Brandenburg concerto, all symphony members, will include violinist Fabrice Dharamraj, flutist Kathryn Levy, oboist Amanda LaBrecque and trumpeter Anita Cirba. There will be two “Classics” presentations of “Miraculous Mandolin,” next Sunday and March 16, with an abridged “Kicked-Back Classics” version on Saturday.

Baroque to folk
Thile, a stellar bluegrass musician, is noted for his contributions to the groups Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers. But he has also made a name for himself in classical music, having collaborated with such virtuosos as Edgar Meyer and Yo-Yo Ma. This diverse background is reflected in the concerto, one of just a handful for mandolin.

“It brings a lot of worlds together,” Moody said. “You get a lot of … Baroque feeling in the concerto, at least as I’m studying it and getting ready for the performances. But also, you have a lot of the things that people now more often associate with the mandolin, a sort of a folk feeling.… And finally — and maybe the most important thing — there’s an unbelievable virtuosity in the piece. Chris Thile is to the mandolin what Yo-Yo Ma is to the cello.”

Moody also described an “incredibly well-crafted” work, with lots of mixed meter and counterpoint.

David Levy, a musicologist at Wake Forest University, writes the symphony’s program notes. He described Thile’s concerto as “an authentic synthesis that draws on everything (Thile) considers good in music.”

“That’s certainly the goal,” Thile said in a telephone interview en route to another engagement. “I would never profess to have accomplished that. I look at everything of a certain level in music as being akin. I see very little difference between a piece of, say, Bartok’s or, say, a great fiddle tune. They succeed for the same reasons.”

Thile said that it’s a musician’s duty to “put yourself in the way of as much great music as possible and to probe the depths of it to figure out … what it’s accomplishing and how you can absorb that in a productive way.”

Read the full article here