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The Knight Orchestra with guest artist Wu Man, pipa

Feb 16, 2013

The Knights, a vibrant young chamber orchestra, and Wu Man, the world’s best-known player of the pipa, join forces for a musical voyage on Saturday, Feb. 16, in Earlham College’s Goddard Auditorium.

The Artist and Lecture Series event begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, which cost $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, are available at the box office in Carpenter Hall.

The Knights evolved during late night chamber music reading parties with friends at the home of violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen. The Jacobsen brothers serve as artistic directors of The Knights, with Eric Jacobsen as conductor. The orchestra retains the collaborative spirit of the early gatherings. Joining them for a unique sonic counterpoint is Wu Man, a virtuoso on the pipa, or Chinese lute.

“The program The Knights are playing at Earlham is a total journey in time and space,” says Colin Jacobsen. “With Wu Man, the first lady of the pipa or Chinese lute, as our guest, we tried to build a program that was about reaching out, about composers/arrangers both within The Knights and outside, who looked outside of their immediate time or place for inspiration.

“In Darius Milhaud’s surrealist Ox on the Roof, it was the intoxicating rhythms and popular songs of Brazil that became fodder for his imagination. Lou Harrison wrote his pipa concerto for Wu Man, but it isn’t Chinese music — it’s a beautiful melding of his work with gamelan music, Americana, and even 13th century Spanish dance forms. Debussy’s dreamy, sensuous Afternoon of a Faun, arranged by Knights’ horn player Mike Atkinson, was written shortly after his musical world was turned upside down by a visit to a World Expo in Paris in 1889 in which (Debussy) heard music from the Far East for the first time. Finally, Wu Man’s own tunes, Blue andGreen, arranged by my friend Ljova and myself, though with roots clearly in China, could almost be jam band music.”

Jacobsen says the Knights are excited to play at Earlham.

“The Knights believe that an orchestral concert can be not only entertaining, but transformative and create a lasting memory of the experience,” he explains. “At a time when so many things are watered down, we think that it’s possible to have a visceral experience even with music that has a lot of thought behind it. And we think that college audiences, provided they take a moment to step outside the busy life of classes, work and social life, are possibly the most receptive to this experience.”

Jacobsen says Wu Man is a commanding and communicative performer.

“Even if you’ve never heard the pipa, she invites you into her world,” Jacobsen says. “And for my brother Eric, myself and number of other people in the group, she’s a colleague that we’ve worked with in a number of other contexts for years, so there’s a comfort level on stage where it’s not about ‘East meets West’ but about friendship rooted in sound.”

The Orchestra's extensive repertoire features traditional and contemporary masterworks of classical, popular and world music. The roster of The Knights boasts a diversity of talents including composers, arrangers, singer-songwriters and improvisers who bring a range of cultural influences to the group, from jazz and klezmer to pop and indie rock music. The musicians are graduates of Juilliard, Curtis, and other leading music schools, and members have performed as soloists with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago and San Francisco symphony orchestras, as well as the Israel Philharmonic and Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart orchestra.