Review: Knights play like friends having a good time in Troy

The Knights debuted Thursday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in a rip-roaring concert fill

The Knights debuted Thursday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in a rip-roaring concert filled with color, finesse and marvelous playing.

The concert was the first on its U.S. tour and was part of the Troy Chromatics Concerts series.

What makes the Knights different than most small orchestras — there were about 40 on stage along with conductor Eric Jacobsen — is that they are friends who love to play music together. So performance levels were extremely high, the ensemble techniques were exemplary and musically they swung and swayed together.

The program was also very interesting as it mixed a few gems with unknowns. Jacobsen didn’t conduct every piece. In his absence, his brother Colin Jacobsen as the concertmaster sort of stepped in.

They began with Charles Ives’ seminal work, “The Unanswered Question” (1906). With the lone trumpet calling from a stage right organ loft and the woodwinds in a collage of sound in the second-level boxes, the strings proceeded with mysterious, eerie and haunting sounds, which Colin Jacobsen said was a “cosmic chorale.”

Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout” (2003) had punky rhythms, strong pulses and some interesting plucked and tapped bow timbres before the vaquero galloped in on his steed to serenade the maiden. It was very cinematic with the Knights sans conductor in a thrilling ride.

Barber’s famed Adagio received a different treatment. Jacobsen started it quietly, but the strings used little vibrato and used portamento or slides between certain intervals. As the dynamic increased, the mood seemed austere rather than romantic and the pure tone somehow made the music have more anguish than one of peace or acceptance. It was an unusual treatment.

The Knights turned abruptly to Golijov’s “Night of the Flying Horses” (2002), which was a combination of a Yiddish lullaby with gypsy music. The dark harmonies, ethnic colors and the eventual flying tempo had plenty of schmaltz. The large crowd would have loved more.

Composer Lisa Bielawa said her “Tempelhof Etude” (2011) was an exercise that was evolving. This version was dense with a mélange of sound, motifs passed around and a certain level of color and rhythm. Copland’s “Appalachian Spring Suite” (1944) in contrast was transparency itself. The work is iconic with its color, quirky and often difficult rhythms, and expansive melodies, which have become part of Americana.

The Knights played exquisitely. Jacobsen conducted with focus, an economical beat, expressive phrasing and a little body English.

The encore was a wild and woolly traditional Iranian tune, “Ascending Bird,” that Colin Jacobsen arranged, which featured the percussionist on a Peruvian cajon, a box-like drum.

Categories: Entertainment

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