Time for yet another "unheard/unopened" offering. This time it's a new program of "old & new" sounds sharing the same concert program...in this case live, which I only just realized whilst listening to (yes..if you must know I was in the bathroom during the closing of Reich's Duet) the Bach Concerto (it's sprightly and very nicely done overall) once it's conclusion was reached. Either the audience agrees that it's an engaging performance or I have an odd case of tinnitus indeed. Impressive this is for a live performance, the sound is warm and full and the listener is not aware of those present during the recording until the applause. I bought this recording for Colin Jacobsen's "Concerto for Santur, Violin and Orchestra", which was co-written by Siamak Aghaei, who also plays the santur (Persian-era hammered dulcimer) here. I have been a fan of Jacobsen's music since I first discovered his own playing and music on one of the Brooklyn Rider (the NY-based string quartet) albums. It's always nice to have another version of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto, the same goes for any Bach concerti really, and the Reich I found pleasant although I didn't pay enough attention to it this first time around. The last piece on the disc is a collaborative composition by several members of The Knights ensemble, which I know absolutely nothing about. Hopefully the Jacobsen piece will impress; I have been fond of the hammered dulcimer for a long time and within all types of musical settings...so I suppose I am forecasting or hoping for a genuine ear-festival ;)
Here's a brief blurb from the release:
Recorded live in concert at Dumbarton Oaks in DC, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Stravinsky’s chamber concerto at the Washington estate for which it was originally named, "the ground beneath our feet" brings together radically divergent examples of the concerto grosso, by composers ranging from Bach and Haydn to those of the present day, by way of modern masters Stravinsky and Steve Reich. True to their collegial creed, The Knights’ own contribution to the form – the title track, …the ground beneath our feet, recorded here for the first time – is a genuine group composition, collaborative from inception to interpretation. Also receiving its world premiere recording is the Concerto for Santur, Violin, and Orchestra, which represents the third collaboration between longtime friends and musical partners Colin Jacobsen and Siamak Aghaei, leading exponent of the Iranian santur, or hammered dulcimer. The Knights juxtapose these two original concerto grossi with four earlier examples of the form. Representing its apotheosis in the Baroque is the Concerto for Violin and Oboe by J.S. Bach, whose third Brandenburg Concerto provided the model for Stravinsky’s neoclassical masterpiece “Dumbarton Oaks.” Steve Reich’s Duet for Two Violins and Strings is dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin and "the ideals of international understanding which he practiced throughout his life."
And here is an article from (I think?) Minnesota Public Radio about the album, Colin Jacobsen's piece and the ensemble (The Knights):
Colin Jacobson grew up with a lot of music in his house.
"Our dad, from Minnesota, played violin in the Minnesota Orchestra, then the Milwaukee Symphony, then the Met Opera," Colin says. "We grew up with him and his friends playing chamber music in the living room whenever they weren't at the Met. I think we saw music as a very social and joyous activity from the beginning."
Colin Jacobson says as soon as he and his younger brother Eric were old enough, they carried on that tradition of making music with friends in their living room. Before long, that group of friends became a chamber ensemble called The Knights. Colin is a violinist and co-artistic director for the group with Eric, who plays cello and often directs the group.
On their newest recording, The Ground Beneath our Feet, Colin says the ensemble is moving much closer to its overall goal. "I think this album puts forward what the orchestra believes better than any other album up to this date, because it really comes from within the group," he says. "By using the Concerto Grosso as the jumping-off point in which individual voices come to the fore and then fade away, I think we tried to make that explicit."
As Colin explains it, The Ground Beneath our Feet is a title that really serves a dual purpose. "It's a little bit of a play on words," he says. "The 'ground' referring to the ground bass that forms the backbone of the piece. But I think it's also a sense that what we do as the Knights has to happen collectively. And it's the work we put in together that allows that ground to be there, so we can trust each other and play music."
Whenever this group gets together, there are constant brainstorming sessions where ideas of all kinds are tossed around. "This album is really a product of those conversations," Colin explains. "For instance, the title track is the brainchild of Alex Sopp, who is a flutist within the group. And she's also the multi-talented person who did the cover artwork, taking Stravinsky's face and having the universe sort of spew out of his mouth. It's really beautiful. She came up with this idea that we should create a piece collectively within the group. And to do that, she suggested using an old ground bass line, or chaconne, and for different people to write sketches or takes on that bass line. About seven people contributed original material to the piece, The Ground Beneath our Feet.
"For instance, it starts with a free improvisation led by Sean Conley, a bass player who outside of the Knights plays almost all jazz. And it ends with an original song by Christina Courtin, who is a violinist and also a wonderful singer-songwriter. And in the middle, I write a section that indulges my love of Persian music. My friend Johnny writes a section that showcases his love of salsa — and so it is a quilt, in a certain sense."
Isn't there also an Irish jig?
"Yes," Colin says, "and the person who wrote that is someone who is now in Minnesota, playing principal bass with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Zack Cohen. We get to borrow him every now and then."
Colin's passion for Persian music resulted in the world-premiere recording of the Concerto for Santur, Violin and Orchestra, which he co-wrote with Siamak Aghaei, a Persian musician Colin met while touring with The Silk Road Ensemble. "The piece starts with a three-minute opening invocation by Siamak — not on the santur but the dutar, which is a two-stringed, long-necked lute often used by bards in central Asia," Colin explains. "In the middle of the piece is a cadenza for santur, the hammered dulcimer of Iran and he sings during it, a chant. It's incredibly beautiful. When I heard him do that, it was so deep, so sad — nostalgic for a place a long time ago and I thought the material could form some of the backbone of the piece. And then I contributed original material and tried to find a way to weave his instrument and his tradition into the orchestra."
This new release was actually recorded on what Colin and his brother Eric consider to be somewhat hallowed ground. "We made this recording and played Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks a year ago, and it was the 75th anniversary of that piece being written for that place — it's a beautiful historic mansion in Washington, D.C.," Colin says. "And when Stravinsky was writing that piece, he was thinking about Bach and his Brandenburg concerti. That piece has a different part for every single person in the orchestra. So it's really the sense of individuality within the collective, through the wonderfully quirky lens of Stravinsky. And another sense-of-place thing: I mentioned my dad — he played that piece there about halfway between its being written and us playing it there. I'm not sure it's with Stravinsky conducting … it might have been Robert Craft conducting. That was a nice feeling, for my brother and me to be there, knowing that our dad had done the same thing there, half our lifetimes' ago."
Let's all enjoy, shall we?