To explain what last week’s concert by The Knights was like, it’s easiest to start not at the beginning, but with the encore.
After finishing a satisfying program of classical-ish music from the Americas, a percussionist came up to the conductor’s box. He sat down. He pulled a rectangular box between his legs. The chamber orchestra started playing, and the percussionist started wailing on the box, as if transformed into a tabla player, stirring up the orchestra and the audience.
The composition — Ascending Bird, by co-concertmaster Colin Jacobsen and Siamak Aghaei — was beautifully rehearsed. At the same time, the music sang out with a joyfulness and freedom that sets this New York-based chamber orchestra apart.
The Knights are on their first extended U.S. tour. For it, they’re playing music from their album New Worlds. The encore wrapped up a program that moved seamlessly between American classics (Ives, Copland, Barber) and newer works by Gabriela Frank, Osvaldo Golijov (Night of the Flying Horses, full of dramatic gusts and klezmer gusto) and American composer Lisa Bielawa.
The last, Tempelhof Etude, is a study for Tempelhof Broadcast, a large work that Bielawa is composing for 600 musicians (really) to perform on the tarmac of the airport made famous from the Berlin Airlift. The work ends mysteriously, without resolution, connecting it with Ives’ much earlier work, The Unanswered Question, which opened the program.
The Knights treated the Ives dramatically, seating the trumpeter (who plays the repeated “question”) onstage by himself, in low light. By positioning musicians offstage and in a balcony, the group enveloped the listeners in the contemplative score.
For Tuesday Musical, a Knight Arts grantee that is always looking ahead, this group of musicians took the series in the right direction. Next year, when Tuesday Musical celebrates its 125th anniversary, some members of The Knights will be back, to perform with Silk Road Ensemble and Yo-Yo Ma.
Tuesday Musical Association, One South Main St., Suite 301, Akron, 44308-1842; 330-761-3460; www.tuesdaymusical.org.