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Chris Thile Performs Original Works with Symphoiny

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Sunday July 12, 2009

from Travese City Record-Eagle

Mandolin virtuoso debuts original work

Chris Thile, youth symphony perform Sunday
By Marta Hepler Drahos

INTERLOCHEN — The last time Chris Thile played at Interlochen it was on the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass band Nickel Creek’s farewell tour.

On Sunday the 28-year-old mandolinist will appear as soloist with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra in an exclusive preview performance of his own mandolin concerto — a proposition likely to produce either gray hair or stage fright, he said.

“This is a run-through in front of people to get a feel for what the piece is doing,” said Thile (rhymes with “really”), who will almost certainly make changes to the work as a result of the performance, in preparation for its September premiere by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. “It’s so nerve wracking. I may bring an oxygen tank on stage. I can’t think when I’ve had more anticipation for anything.”

The performance is part of the WYSO concert “An American Experience with Chris Thile,” which also features two of Aaron Copland’s most beloved masterpieces, “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Thile’s work — one of a handful of concertos for mandolin — was co-commissioned by Interlochen and the Colorado Symphony, together with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Winston-Salem Symphony, Delaware Symphony Orchestra and Portland Symphony Orchestra.

It marks the first time the mandolinist — a late-comer to composition and “formal” music — has tried his hand at orchestration, though he’s enjoyed success with works for bluegrass instruments and for double bass and piano.

“I couldn’t even read music until I was 16,” said the California-born musician, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I was not terribly interested in classical music until three extended family members all introduced me to Bach at the same time in the summer of ’97. My whole life changed right then. My ears were finally ready to recognize and appreciate the depth of Bach and the very great pieces of formal music.”

Now Thile, who currently performs as a solo artist and with the alternative bluegrass band Punch Brothers among others, is devoted to fusing folk and formal music in Bartok-like fashion.

His concerto in three movements is dark and a little troubled — “dark in an unstable way,” Thile noted — and includes an improvised cadenza. It took about six months to complete, he said, adding: “I don’t know whether I have any business writing for orchestra. I hope I do, because I love it.”

The Interlochen performance will be the first time he’ll hear the piece played by an orchestra, and the first time many in the audience will hear him play anything other than bluegrass.

“It could sound atonal to someone who knows me through Nickel Creek,” he said. “It’s ridiculously more adventurous than that.”

WYSO director Jung-Ho Pak calls the work a “virtuosic piece.”

“I was expecting something fairly different — something that would be kind of lighthearted,” said Pak, who listened to the computer version of the work in preparation for the first of three rehearsals with Thile starting today. “But this is actually a very deep and richly complex and thought-out piece. My breath is taken away.”

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