BÉLA FLECK AND BROOKLYN RIDER
The banjo-driven theme song from the TV series “The Beverly Hillbillies” inspired a young Béla Fleck to pick up the instrument in New York City decades ago.
Now, the living banjo legend – a frequent contemporary, classical, and pop collaborator – is stringing a new sound together with Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet that has been described as “classical musicians performing with the energy of young rock stars.”
Both Fleck, a 14-time Grammy award winner, and Brooklyn Rider, a public radio favorite, are known for their eclectic musical pairings. Fleck has crafted music with his wife, fellow banjo player Abigail Washburn, as well as Chick Corea, the Dave Matthews Band, bassist Edgar Meyer, and Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain.
Brooklyn Rider – with Johnny Gandelsman on violin, Colin Jacobsen on violin, Nicholas Cords on viola, and Eric Jacobsen on cello – aren’t far behind.
They’ve already worked with Philip Glass, Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, and Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man.
Together, the banjo “quintet” is taking their program of original music by Fleck and other Brooklyn Rider favorites to more than 20 cities in North America this year.
Fleck is technically the elder statesman of the group, but after an early meeting, felt “lucky” that the quartet agreed to work with him.
“They are very warm, sweet, and fun people to spend time with,” Fleck said. “And I saw that they have a top-notch work ethic.”
Early on, Fleck brought some rough song ideas to Brooklyn Rider.
“Honestly, they made everything I had prepared sound so good, that it didn’t help make the decision of which [songs] to develop any easier!” he said.
Even though both artists have solid back catalogs to work with – as well as their joint album, 2013’s standout “The Imposter” – Fleck said he’s a fan of putting together a different set for each live collaboration.
“It takes more work, but it gives every group a very strong identity, even beyond the actual instruments in the ensembles,” he said.
Using “Night Flight Over Water” from “The Imposter” as a starting point, Fleck wrote another 20-minute long piece, and crafted arrangements of a couple of his older works to sprinkle in.
“I also learned several of Brooklyn Rider’s excellent pieces, and looked for a banjo role in those,” he said. “By the end, we had built a repertoire that we are very proud of.”
Fleck’s attention to detail is likely to be appreciated during the pairing’s July 1 Interlochen show.
“I have always loved coming to Interlochen to play,” he said. “It will be fun to play in the beautiful setting near the lake. And for a pretty big place, the venue has an intimacy that is very special.”
The fact that music is actually being taught there, he added, brings in another element that “feels great” to musicians.
“I am honestly thrilled that the admittedly offbeat music that I do can have a home in Interlochen,” Fleck said.
Béla Fleck and Brooklyn Rider will be in concert on July 1 at 8pm in the Kresge Auditorium, Interlochen Center for the Arts. For tickets and more, visit tickets.interlochen.org.