'We Are the Knights'

09.08.11
The Knights
NY Daily News

By David Hinckley

'We Are the Knights' review: Unconventional Brooklyn orchestra votes on music set list

The Knights are a Brooklyn symphony orchestra that votes on what it will play. For that reason alone, "We Are the Knights" becomes intriguing television.

Whatever you think of democracy as a decision-making system, you would probably guess that it works better for running countries than for running an orchestra.

"We Are the Knights," which airs Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on Ch. 13, suggests you might be at least partly wrong.

The story of the Knights is so unconventional, it turns out, that for long stretches of time the viewer may forget he or she is even watching a show about classical music.

That's not a knock on classical music. It's just unusual to see it discussed in the kind of animated terms usually reserved for less stately styles of music.

Brothers Eric and Colin Jacobsen, who founded the orchestra and are its conductor and concertmaster, sound less like academics lecturing about the glories of Beethoven than a couple of video-game geeks who just discovered and mastered an incredible new animation adventure.

None of this means, however, that they don't take the music seriously. As sons of professional musicians, they developed their own musical obsessions firmly and early.

Colin says he was 4 when his parents took him into a store and he saw a miniature violin. Hey, he thought, I can play that. His parents bought it for him, and that's one of the roots of the Knights.

Besides the Jacobsens, most of the other Knights are also young, and the documentary suggests many of them have grown up in the same professional musician-grooming world.

Playing with the Knights satisfies the drive to become better professionals, while at the same time enabling them to extend their happy childhoods a little longer.

The playing is serious, but the attitude feels more like college, as if everyone belongs to the same fraternity or sorority.

Some of that comes from the musical selections, which include both traditional classical cornerstones and rearranged versions of tunes from Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley.

Yo-Yo Ma, one of the world's three or four most renowned classical musicians, sits in with the Knights when he's in town. Why? asks the interviewer. Because it's fun, says Yo-Yo Ma.

What he doesn't have to say is that if it were only a goof, he wouldn't be there. His presence validates the musicianship part.

Mary Lockhart, executive producer and writer of the film, deserves full credit for making the documentary as lively, breezy and fun as the Knights make music.

If this documentary doesn't make you feel good, you need to watch it again, because you made a mistake.