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Creative Collective

The Knights

How a group of recent conservatory grads is expanding the orchestral concert experience: Colin and Eric Jacobsen tell the story behind the chamber orchestra known as The Knights.

The origins of The Knights were about as close to a “garage band” as an orchestra could be.  As teenage musicians we would spend all night in out parents’ living room, jamming with our friends.  When we were studying at Juilliard we kept doing that and found ourselves with a big circle of people who liked to play, discuss, and interpret music, and experiment with the pieces we were playing.

Our informal group started to hold public performances about eight years ago, and it went from being a small of conservatory students to include composers, arrangers, singers, and people who pursued new directions far afield from their classical training.  Now we operate as a per-service orchestra.  We have made some exciting recordings and performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Poisson Rouge, the Brooklyn Lyceum, MATA (a festival that promotes the work of young composers), the Dresden Musikfestspiele, and Dublin’s National Gallery.  

We all believe deeply in dedicating ourselves to whatever music we’re playing, whether it’s by Beethoven, Lisa Bielawa, or on of our own musicians.  So we give ourselves unusual amounts of time to rehearse, the way a theater company might approach a great play.  One reason for this is our consensus-driven, highly collaborative structure.  Everybody in The Knights has a say, and a lot of discussion and exploration goes into figuring out how each musician’s part fits into the greater whole.  That gives us tremendous freedom in how we perform together.  It allows for connections from one side of the stage to another; audiences pick up on this connection.  To have a truly personal experience within an orchestra as well as with our audience: this is why we founded The Knights, and we are fortunate that it remains at the core of what we do

Originally, when we were a smaller ensemble, we didn’t have a conductor.  Now Eric does the conducting, and we have a managing director: Vanessa Rose-Pridemore, a fine musician and graduate of the Orchestra Management Fellowship Program of the League of American Orchestras.  The members of The Knights still carry out many nuts-and-bolts functions such as communications, operations, and fundraising.  

That hands-on approach, and our flattened hierarchy, makes us well suited to offbeat collaborations and interesting projects.  For instance, our first album for Sony, with cellist Jan Vogler, paired Shostakovich with Jimi Hendrix.  We were worried the Hendrix might sound watered-down, but we have collaborators whose musical lives weave in an out of pop, jazz, folk, period-performance, and world music.  They are able to bring the rest of us into idioms that we may not have learned in school and are excited to be a part of now.

We love to collaborate with artists who are not just great musicians, but who look at music with a wide view of its place in the world.  They are willing to take amazing chances to ensure than something magical happens on stage.  Right now, we are preparing for a fall appearance at the Caramoor festival with Yo-Yo Ma.

We plan to continue to explore the unlimited world of music, and to bring as broad an audience as possible with us on our journey.  And to keep having fun while we’re doing it.

COLIN JACOBSEN and ERIC JACOBSEN, brothers, founded The Knights and are co-artistic directors of the ensemble.  Colin serves as concertmaster (a rotating position) and Eric conducts the group, also occasionally performing in its cello section.