Concert review: The Knights display deeply committed musicmaking skills

The Knights — a hip, collaborative and innovative Brooklyn-based chamber orchestra — made an auspicious Washington debut Monday and Tuesday at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum. Founded by two brothers, veterans of Yo-Yo Ma’s genre-bending Silk Road project, the Knights gave sizzling performances of classics by Bach, Haydn and Stravinsky.

It is a joy to see such deeply committed musicmaking. The Knights have no conductor; only the bassoonist and cellists play seated; every player is viscerally caught up in the shape of every phrase. That they suggest a rock band is not accidental, but the precision of balance and ensemble bespeaks the highest level of musicianship and preparation.

A boy with toy gun poses for picture in front of barricades at the police headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk, April 17, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Ukraine's government needs to provide guarantees to its Russian-speaking population in the east of the country to resolve the crisis. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Photos of the day

Ukrainian crisis, Iranian mother spares the life of her son’s killer just before his execution, Easter play and more.

GoingOut Guide
Looking for things to do?
Select one or more criteria to search
Get ideas

It is unfortunate that the string soloists play with a thin, quasi-baroque sound (unlike their woodwind colleagues); this affect marred the Bach concerto for oboe and violin and the Haydn “Le Soir” symphony. Given the energy and spirit everywhere else, this counts as just a quibble, but it is odd that so many excellent, conservatory-trained artists prioritize beauty of sound lower today than they used to.

The concert concluded with two unclassifiable works: a Concerto for Santur and Violin by Colin Jacobsen and Siamak Aghaei (a santur is an Iranian hammer dulcimer) and “ . . . the ground beneath our feet,” apparently a group composition by the entire ensemble. The concerto hung together a little better (having fewer cooks than the second piece), though it was still a mish-mash of Middle East and West, including places where the concerto seemed like a Disney movie soundtrack and ending with a kind of Iranian tarantella.

The final work was truly a Mulligan stew, an attempt at blending every kind of non-classical music that each member felt like tossing in — Irish bebop; Indian calypso; Peter, Paul & Mary; and so on. Bemusing, but ultimately silly; the joyous vibe the group clearly shared did not translate into or even suggest music of any permanence.

Battey is a freelance writer.

More music content

Show more
Read what others are saying

    Dan Kiley’s landscapes