Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mandolin and Bass on Stage at Carnegie Hall

Over at Rattle My Cage, Allan is posting concert reviews from February, so I guess I shouldn’t have any qualms -- or at least fewer -- about finally getting around to describing Chris Thile’s debut in Isaac Stern Auditorium (a.k.a. the big room) at Carnegie Hall. (Peter over at Feast of Music got his account of the evening up in a timely fashion, I should note. I also should note that I'm using his photographs here.)

It was Wednesday 29 October when Chris Thile and his mandolin and Edgar Meyer and his upright bass gathered around a couple of microphones on the Carnegie Hall stage and started playing some selections from their recent Nonesuch CD. (They had been on the Moonshine Show the Sunday before to promote their appearance.) Being something in between a classical show and a folk show, there was a folksy joke or two -- “Nice hall!” – and they generally seemed like they were comfortable and enjoying themselves on stage. Soundwise, I could have done with a little additional volume in the speakers.

I enjoyed the first half of the show but honestly could have left at intermission -- as my friend Abigail was kind of hoping would happen. The only real highlight from the first half, I thought, was the three quick doses of Bach that they gave us. Their original music was pleasantly composed and skillfully played but ultimately lacking in grab. And with it being a school night and all…

But I am glad that I did not make an early retreat, as the second half picked up in intensity and moved my butt a little more toward the edge of my seat. They came out strong, hitting us with the energetic “This is the Pig,” the challenging “Rabbit Cakes” and then “Ham and Cheese.” That triple threat packed some serious punch (no pun intended).

Then Mark O’Connor came out. Wow. Repeat: Wow. The first number that the trio played was something swingy, and they each took a solo. Mark O’Connor’s touch on violin had me rethinking whether or not people that I consider good fiddlers are actually all that good. The sound that he coaxed out of his instrument was so smooth and buttery that my jaw dropped straight away, and I daresay that I might have drooled a little bit. This was a true professional and a true virtuoso musician taking the stage. The trio followed with a very sweet piece of music that Edgar and Mark wrote together 20 years ago. And then they played a simply fantastic piece of music from one of Mark’s albums that featured one shimmering melodic line after another played over three repeating bass notes. One winner after another after another.

O’Connor took his well-deserved bows, and Thile and Meyer gave us another dose of Bach. And then they concluded the program with “Fence Post in the Front Yard,” which featured an impressive precision ending coming out of cascading scales of notes being played on both the mandolin and bass.

Mark O’Connor returned for the encore, a delightful rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

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