The Knights Release the ground beneath our feet – Their Album Debut as Exclusive Warner Classics Artists – on Jan 26

12.08.14
The Knights

Flexible in size and repertory, and dedicated to transforming the concert experience, The Knights have been hailed as the next generation of classical music” (Performance Today host Fred Child). Now, marking their debut as exclusive Warner Classics artists, the ground beneath our feet epitomizes the very qualities that set the trailblazing New York orchestral collective apart. Due for U.S. release on January 26, the new album was recorded live in concert, capturing The Knights’ “sizzling performances” and “deeply committed musicmaking” (Washington Post) in a program that reflects their eclectic palate and commitment to camaraderie and collaboration. Exploring the conversational concerto grosso form through three centuries of music, the album pairs examples by Bach, Haydn, Stravinsky, and Reich with world premiere recordings of two collaboratively composed concertos: the title track – a group composition by The Knights themselves – and a characteristically cross-cultural creation from co-artistic director Colin Jacobsen and Iranian santur virtuoso Siamak Aghaei. The CD release is timed to coincide with The Knights’ extensive upcoming East Coast tour, on which – in another of their trademark genre-bending collaborations – they will be joined by preeminent banjoist Béla Fleck in a wide-ranging program that culminates with live performances of ...the ground beneath our feet (Jan 28–Feb 12).

The concerto grosso is a Baroque form in which musical material is passed between a small group of soloists and a full orchestra. Colin Jacobsen characterizes the relationship between these two musical groups as a “party within a party,” and the form’s combination of virtuosity and conversation has obvious appeal for The Knights; as the New York Times observes, “camaraderie and shared enthusiasm for playing music are what drive the ensemble.” The collective’s passion for collaboration has led to partnerships with such classical luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Dawn Upshaw; experts in other genres, like Siamak Jahangiri, Wu Man, and Mark O’Connor; and many of today’s leading contemporary composers, including Timo Andres, Philip Glass, and Osvaldo Golijov.

Recorded live in concert at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, 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. Its name refers to the Baroque ground bass that inspired it; as Knights bassist Zach Cohen explains, 

“The focal point was the Ciaccona by the Italian Baroque composer Tarquinio Merula – specifically the four-bar ground bass line Merula repeats throughout. You will hear sections influenced by salsa, Irish reels, gypsy, raga, and free jam, all tied together by Merula’s bass line in its different incarnations.”

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. They previously joined forces to create Ascending Bird, which was pronounced “intoxicating” by the New York Times and viewed live online by an audience of millions, when performed by the You Tube Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House.

The Knights juxtapose these two original concerti 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.” This message evokes the Enlightenment-era values of Joseph Haydn, whose music emphasizes camaraderie and dialogue; the fourth movement of Haydn’s Eighth Symphony, “Le Soir,” is included as an iTunes bonus track. 

The Knights return to the concert hall in the New Year, when they resume their New York residency and embark on an extensive seven-state East Coast tour in company with 15-time Grammy Award-winning banjo artist Béla Fleck. Once again, their program embraces a notable range of repertoire. In addition to reprising their group composition …the ground beneath our feet, The Knights perform the beloved overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville and their own arrangement of a favorite tenor aria from the same opera, contrasted with John Adams’s Chamber Symphony. The collective also joins Fleck to perform his tour-de-force banjo concerto, “The Impostor,” and their own orchestral arrangement of “Big Country,” originally created by his bluegrass-fusion band, the Flecktones.

The tour’s inaugural performance at New York’s Pace University (Jan 28) is the second of The Knights’ three residencies at New York venues this season, as part of a three-year initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation to help them connect even more closely with their native city. When they launched the residency series at Brooklyn’s Roulette this fall, joined by superstar violinist Gil Shaham as their special guest, their performance impressed the New York Times as “polished and jubilant.”  This spring, the Knights embark on a European tour where they collaborate with legendary American soprano Dawn Upshaw (May 25–30.)