Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 23, 2014
by Michael J. Moran
The Knights are a genre bending “orchestral collective” founded several years ago to create “programs that encompass their roots in the classical tradition and passion for musical discovery.” Their Tanglewood debut achieved that goal with easily the most eclectic concert of the season.
The featured soloist in the first half of the program was Swedish trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, who played lush but spare arrangements by Roland Pontinen of music by Joni Mitchell (“Both Sides Now,” sounding like Arvo Part), Kurt Weill (“Speak Low”), and Michel Legrand (“Sans Toi”). Hardenberger’s playing was incisive but flexible, and a mute added warmth and glow to “Speak Low.” His trumpet captured the Latin rhythms of selections by Rolf Martinsson (bossa nova) and Astor Piazzolla (tango) with surprising drama and flair.
Up to 14 Knights accompanied Hardenberger and performed music by Gyorgy Ligeti (“Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances”) and Ljova (“Ori’s Fearful Symmetry”) around his two sets. Their easy camaraderie was evident in their relaxed but lively accounts of this colorful music, some pieces conducted by Knights co-founder and cellist Eric Jacobsen, and others led from the concertmaster’s stand by his brother and fellow Knights co-founder, violinist Colin Jacobsen. Their helpful comments before several pieces clearly engaged the large audience, which included many Tanglewood students.
The second half of the concert opened with an exuberant rendition of Stravinsky’s pungent “Dunbarton Oaks” concerto. But the evening’s highlight was jazz bandleader Maria Schneider’s song cycle “Winter Morning Walks.” Setting nine poems by Ted Kooser about his recovery from cancer, it featured, in addition to the Knights, a soprano soloist and jazz trio.
Cancer survivor Dawn Upshaw, in fine voice, combined her characteristic clarity of diction and depth of feeling to achieve a profound emotional catharsis. The lines in the final poem, “How important it must be to someone that I am alive,” must have had special resonance for her. The Coplandesque score was lovingly rendered by all the musicians, particularly trio members Frank Kimbrough on piano, Scott Robinson on clarinets, and Jay Anderson on double bass.
Programs of this distinction suggest a bright future for classical music.