ELBPHILHARMONIE APPEARANCE BY THE KNIGHTS DEFINES NEW STANDARD (translation)

04.29.17
The Knights
Hamburger Abendblatt

One could have seen it coming that these guys would be a disappointment. For on paper, this second half of a program which marked the debut of The Knights from New York at the Main Hall of Elbphilharmonie, seemed so tame and conventional as if they had inherited that one from the estate of the late Sir Neville Marriner: Bach, Haydn, Boccherini: This would be white-bread classics, if played with prissy masterclass inoffensiveness.
 
But then this: The Third Brandenburg Concerto by Bach, attacked with drive. First movement gone, the harpsichord was improvising, moments ago, on the transitional accords towards the finale seemingly without clear destination – and the violinist Christina Courtin, formed at Juilliard School, deposits her violin on the stage floor and positions herself in the center front. And sings, solo and so adorably you want to kneel down. Goosebumps as sandpaper of coarseness grade 6, I am not exaggerating here. Because what she sings is nothing baroque by Bach, so as to stay at least within the period with her Brooklyn buddies, but Paul Simon's 'American Tune', that only 40 years-old singer-songwriter classic based on the chorale 'O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden' which Bach had used in his St Matthew Passion because it goes so deep, right to the heart. One can pull that off in theory – if in fact one can pull it off. In practice, however, no one does it because nobody thinks this indirect way in programming.
 
By now, if not before, one thing was clear: This concert would find itself on a personal favorites list. The gently grooving 'Duet' for two violins and strings by Steve Reich, this minimalist modern piece, had obtained a front end in the form of Purcell's 'Fantasia', with a few soloists placed throughout the hall as seasoning effect. Haydn's Symphony No. 80, produced with much elegant wit, elaborated with perfection, did not sound like the eightieth symphony of someone.  'Dumbarton Oaks', Stravinsky's little sleight of hand for ensemble, was presented with such smooth fluidity and intelligence in all its details that it was pure delight.
 
First and foremost, however: Wu Man and her pipa. Should Jimi Hendrix ever wish to reincarnate in the body of a Chinese lute virtuoso, this woman would be the perfect choice. (...) For Boccherini's 'Fandango' Wu Man's pipa came back as guitar replacement and style joker, the castanets were replaced with knocking on the double-bases. 'Die Ritter' (The Knights in German) from Brooklyn offered, as bonus track, their brilliant coup 'Ascending Bird'. Can't possibly get more out of one evening.