Chris Thile at the Newman Center, 10-5-13 (photos, review)By Candace Horgan | October 7th, 2013 | 5 comments
I tend to see concert audiences at their worst. For far too many people, music has become a background to their daily lives, instead of something transcendent to which you give your full attention. You see people at shows talking about their day at work, or holding up their cell phones trying to record as much as possible and generally doing everything except giving their full attention to the music.
That’s why Saturday’s solo performance by Chris Thile at the Newman Center was so riveting. Thile, who was playing with friends Sara and Sean Watkins in Nickel Creek as a child, is hands down the best mandolin player on the planet. His speed and precision and passion are absolutely dazzling to hear live. On Saturday, Thile played his latest CD, “Bach: Sonatas and Partitas 1,” which is solo mandolin performances of three works for violin from composer J.S. Bach. The audience was enthralled by Thile’s performance from the first note, so much so that while shooting photos, my shutter clicks were loud in the lovely theater on the DU campus (and also why I only shot for the first eight minutes or so).
Classical music can be demanding to listen to, as there usually is no repetitive melody for the listener to synch into. Thile, perhaps sensing that a full evening of classical music might not go over as well, alternated between the demanding Bach sonatas and partitas and a range of folk and rock music.
Opening with the “Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BMV 1001: 1. Adagio,” Thile, who played through a single microphone onstage instead of plugging in, quickly segued through several tunes, including the “Blind Leaving the Blind Movement Three” from his debut CD with Punch Brothers, and ending with the old bluegrass standard “Rabbit in a Log,” which Thile ripped into with furious abandon, getting the crowd to clap along.
In discussing the Bach compositions, Thile wryly acknowledged how unusual it might seem at first glance, stating he was “playing them the way Bach intended, apart from the mandolin,” before delving into the “Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BMV: 1001. II. Fuga: Allegro.”
The highlight of the night was Thile’s playing of the “Partita No. 1 in B minor, BMV 1002.” The technically demanding piece showcased all of Thile’s brilliance and skill on the mandolin, and got a standing ovation from the audience in appreciation of its performance. That Thile could play the entire piece without written music is an accomplishment in and of itself, but the performance was flawless.
Thile also played a new song, “Daughter of Eve,” which mixed an almost classical music intro and break with a bluegrass/rock verse and chorus structure. Thile said the song was inspired by a bout of Googling of the story of the Garden of Eden earlier in the year, and laughed as he recounted that a lot of the story had been left out of his youth group instruction.
Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BMV 1001: 1. Adagio -> ? -> Blind Leaving the Blind Movement Three –> Rabbit in a Log, Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BMV: 1001. II. Fuga: Allegro, Stay Away, Fast as You Can, Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel, Partita No. 1 in B minor, BMV 1002 (complete), Set Me Up with One of Your Friends, Daughter of Eve, No. 1 in G Minor, BMV 1001: 1V. Presto, E: Song on the Mandolin