The trailblazing mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital and soulful clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh team up with The Knights for an extraordinary evening-length collaboration, grounded in the classical tradition and crossing boundaries into the worlds of Middle Eastern, Balkan, klezmer, and jazz.
As noted in The New Yorker, “few ensembles are as adept at mixing old and new as the dynamic Brooklyn orchestra The Knights,” whose roster includes composers, arrangers and musicians versed in a myriad of musical styles. This creates a perfect environment for Avital and Azmeh—two renowned virtuosos from Israel and Syria, respectively—to join forces and explore new arrangements, compositions, and improvisations from their own homelands and beyond.
The program, which integrates the talents of Avital and Azmeh throughout, opens with a surprising contiguous suite of three pieces, in which a modal improvisation between soloists elides into the kaleidoscopic counterpoint of Purcell’s Fantasia. This in turn transforms into the Sicilian contemporary composer Sollima’s homage to his home country’s Middle Eastern-infused melodies and rhythms. The program continues with Golijov’s haunting Lullaby and Doina, inspired by the music of Romanian gypsies, and the half is rounded out by Avital’s adaptation of Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto, critically acclaimed and recorded on Deutstche Grammophon.
The second half starts in the Western classical tradition with several songs by Schubert and Mendelssohn in new arrangements by members of The Knights, and departs from there to Azmeh’s world premiere composition for clarinet, violin and mandolin—a concerto grosso for the 21st century. The improvising talents of Azmeh, Avital, and members of The Knights are let loose in a final medley of klezmer, jazz and Middle Eastern sources. As The New York Times posited, “Is there another orchestra that seems to be having as much fun when it plays as The Knights?”