The New York Times
“Mr. Fleck can lay claim to the title of the most popular living banjoist, having done much to push the instrument beyond the bluegrass terra firma into jazz, classical and beyond.”
All Music Guide
“Virtuoso Béla Fleck has broken more boundaries than any other banjoist.”
“Fleck’s concerto for banjo and symphony orchestra off The Impostor edges out the competition for its determined attitude and ambitious undertaking in areas the banjo has never gone before. The world’s most popular banjoist essentially reinvents the rulebook in music written for banjo in an exceptionally grandeur vision. Writing for his first concerto, Fleck is crisp in merging trademark twangs with seeping, mysterious strings. The frontier/americana lineage of the banjo is highlighted in this surprisingly risky romp, protruding an adventurous sprit. Together with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Béla Fleck’s performance is fluid with just the proper amount of danger. But what really drives the heart of Fleck’s concerto for banjo is its pure honesty and genuine penchant for melody. While many concerto recordings in 2013 will ride on the strength of their performance quality none posses as much memorability and character as Fleck’s concerto for banjo.”
“While not a narrative work as such, Juno could nonetheless be regarded as a sequel if only because it is so successful in giving elevated credence to the banjo as a legitimate, indeed beautiful denizen of the Classical world…Along with revealing Fleck’s heightened appreciation of the emotive colors that a full orchestra can provide, Juno also shows a studied commitment to the traditional concerto format of three movements in fast-slow-fast order. Within that structure, Fleck’s thematic developments feel less frenetic than in The Impostor, though no less an adventurous platform for his astonishing virtuosity as a soloist. This time the music, for all of its harmonic eclecticism and contrapuntal complexity, exudes newfound elegance and confidence.”
Chattanooga Times Free Press
“From the outset, Fleck treats the banjo more like a musical instrument than simply a bluegrass instrument. He puts it through its paces and demonstrates its potential far beyond its ‘Beverley Hillbillies’ persona. There are certainly a few captivating moments and flashes of virtuosic playing, but the focus seems to be on the intrinsic quality of the music itself (sounding at times like Bartok, Prokofiev, or Gershwin) rather than on the novelty of a bluegrass instrument paired with an orchestra.”
“While not completely classical, jazz or folk, Fleck and Brooklyn Rider proved their points that seeming incongruity can still produce inspiration.”
Just in case you aren’t familiar with Béla Fleck, there are some who say he’s the world’s premier banjo player. Others claim that Béla has virtually reinvented the image and the sound of the banjo through a remarkable performing and recording career that has taken him all over the musical map and on a range of solo projects and collaborations. If you are familiar with Béla, you know that he just loves to play the banjo, and put it into unique settings.
The 15-time Grammy Award winner has been nominated in more categories than any other artist in Grammy history, and remains a powerfully creative force globally in bluegrass, jazz, classical pop, rock and world beat. Most recently, Béla and Abigail Washburn took home the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk Album. In 2009, Béla produced the award-winning documentary and recordings, Throw Down Your Heart, where he journeyed across Africa to research the origins of the banjo. In 2011, Fleck premiered The Impostor with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, an unprecedented banjo concerto, followed by the companion documentary, How to Write a Banjo Concerto. In 2016, Béla unveiled his second concerto Juno with the Canton Symphony Orchestra. His third concerto, an homage to Louisiana, was premiered by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in March 2018.
Any world-class musician born with the names Béla (for Bartok), Anton (for Dvorak) and Leos (for Janacek) would seem destined to play classical music. Fleck made the classical connection with Perpetual Motion, his critically acclaimed 2001 Sony Classical recording that went on to win a pair of Grammys, including Best Classical Crossover Album, in the 44th annual Grammy Awards. Collaborating with Fleck on Perpetual Motion was his long time friend and colleague Edgar Meyer, a bassist whose virtuosity defies labels and also an acclaimed composer. Béla and Edgar co-wrote and performed a double concerto for banjo, bass and the Nashville Symphony, which debuted in November 2003. They also co-wrote a triple concerto for banjo, bass and tabla, with world renown tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain entitled The Melody of Rhythm.
These days, Fleck bounces between various intriguing touring situations: he performs his concerto worldwide with symphonies, collaborates in a duo with Chick Corea, and in a trio with Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer. He performs in concert with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, in banjo duet with Abigail Washburn, banjo and mandolin duet with Chris Thile, and back to bluegrass with his old friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton and others. He collaborates with African artists such as Oumou Sangare and Toumani Diabate, in a jazz setting with The Marcus Roberts Trio, and – with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, who continue to perform together 25 years after the band’s inception.