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Genre Hopping with Mandolinist Chris Thile

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Wednesday August 28, 2013

From Wall Street Journal

A Hipster Goes for Baroque

Chris Thile, a MacArthur ‘Genius’ and Grammy Winner, takes his mandolin from bluegrass to any style he wants, including Bach
By Robbie Whelan

Chris Thile has never been shy about genre-hopping. In his early 20s, singing and playing with the band Nickel Creek, the mandolin virtuoso covered songs by slacker-rock heroes Pavement, picking along with a fiddler and a guitarist. And a year ago, he was onstage with his band at Bonnaroo, the Tennessee summer music festival, working the crowd with acoustic string-band covers of rock songs by The Cars, Radiohead and others.

Now, he’s trying to get the same fans just as excited about classical music. For his latest record, “Bach: Sonatas and Partitas Vol. 1,” Mr. Thile, 32, has taken an approach of unadorned simplicity: It is just him, alone in a room with his mandolin, playing three suites—16 tracks in all—of works written for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, the master composer of late-Baroque church music. Mr. Thile argues that the same crowds that headbang to Radiohead anthems should be just as able to get psyched for Bach or Mahler.

“The great musics of the world are great for very similar structural reasons: good melody, good harmony, and a balance of feminine and masculine energy. What makes one type of music classical and one bluegrass and one folk—these things aren’t what’s important,” he said at a recent interview in midtown Manhattan. “My thesis statement would be—Bach didn’t write Baroque music. He wrote great music.”

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