Chris Thile. Photo courtesy Chris Thile.
Our Kentucky Home
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Chris Thile, guest mandolin/vocals
Lindsey Bronson, guest guitar/vocals
Sarah B. Adams & Tanner Porter, guest vocals
Joe Hudson, guest guitar
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
To say I was excited to attend this concert is an understatement. I have been a fan of Chris Thile since the award-winning ensemble Nickel Creek made their way into the radio collective consciousness of Adult Alternative mainstream in the early 2000s. As talented as this exquisite mandolinist is, he is a legitimately nice home-grown guy who I had a fantastic conversation with about a decade ago while at a singer/songwriter junket at one of our local radio stations.
While I have been familiar with his prodigiousness on the mandolin and have heard his other collaborations with orchestras before, I had no idea that he had an ear for orchestral concertos. Yes, he does…. sort of. I will elaborate shortly.
Thile approached Teddy Abrams with the idea of a concerto featuring mandolin and I would imagine that Abrams’ mind went into orbit with the possibilities that could come from such a proposal. Little did Teddy, or the musicians of the orchestra know the depth of what Thile was able to bring to the staff-lined sheets of music.
ATTENTION! A narrative song cycle for extroverted mandolinist and orchestra feels a bit like what we know to be a concerto: four movements, with an instrument that serves as a solo pivotal part of the narrative, but Thile brought so much more. It was Thile telling us his musical origin story, which led him to one of his most memorable nights as a professional musician. A fun journey to be sure and there were so many musical clues, nods to popular musicians, and hidden themes that it was almost dizzying, but I loved the stroll, which at times became a sprint.
The piece was clever and frenetic and unlike any concerto I have ever heard. Sure, there were some imperfections. There is mature language in the lyrics and there were young kids in the audience, but it only mattered if you could understand or hear Thile over the music. The sound mix was very off and the balance was hardly there. Thile was overshadowed by the orchestra and even his own mandolin at times, as was the guest vocalist Tanner Porter.
I believe that this “concerto” could very well be a fun piece to put into a repertoire of those that want to challenge themselves with new sounds and a different kind of music. I would very much like to hear it again, soon.
The second half of the concert was a celebration of folk music, some we are very familiar with and some that fly under the radar most times.
We begin with Aaron Copeland and his oft-performed and recognized Hoedown from the ballet score Rodeo. Most of us know this piece as the music used in the “Beef” commercials, but it had great success before then. Teddy shared that Hoedown’s distinctive sound was born from Copeland listening to records by folk musicians of the 1930s and came upon a musician from Kentucky playing a similar theme. Copeland liked it so much that he incorporated it into this 20th-century masterpiece.
The Louisville Orchestra has had many distinct and well-deserved honors and accolades over the 80+ decades that it has been around and one of those is that it is the ONLY orchestra that has living composers among their staff. As part of the outreach of bringing and attracting new music and musicians, the LO has several composers who learn and work from others in the industry and provide new works to the LO. One such composer is Lisa Bielawa who was a member of the first set of composers to grace our Louisville home. Lisa has proven to be a fearless artist and has stretched the boundaries of what is considered music and how we listen/interpret it. Her composition of the streets of New York I still think about to this day.
Home is a folksy/orchestral mashup born of Lisa’s travels across the Commonwealth as a part of the Composers Corp and meeting fellow musicians, such as folk singer/songwriter Lindsey Branson, whom she collaborated with in this composition. The two artists also included Sarah B. Adams as a vocalist and Joe Hudson as a guitarist. Ms. Branson’s voice and gentle guitar strumming is well-suited to a folk style, perhaps even going the way of Norah Jones in soft rock, and having Mr. Hudson on as another guitarist was a good move too. However, the orchestral side of the piece along with Ms. Adams’ art song take on the piece just did not gel for me. Ms. Adams does indeed have a nice vocalese quality, but the whole of the composition just seemed discombobulated at times.
To end the evening, Abrams and the Orchestra shared Bartók’s famous Romanian Folk Dances and one of the few symphonies ever written under 15 minutes, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 “Classical”.
“Classical” is indeed framed like the standard Romantic era set way of writing symphonies, but the composer of classics like Romeo & Juliet and Peter and the Wolf wanted to challenge himself to see if he could fill those musical tenets into a shorter period of performance time. And I am here to tell you, yes, he did and did it well.
If this performance is an indication of what we have, to look forward to this concert season, I am raring to go!!!
Our Kentucky Home
Chris Thile and The Louisville Orchestra will perform ATTENTION! A narrative song cycle for extroverted mandolinist and orchestra on September 22 in Beattyville, KY, and September 23 in Henderson, KY.
September 16, 2023
1080 Amphitheater Road
Louisville, KY 40214
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.