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The Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts Blog Schimmel Center seeks to enrich and engage our audiences by bringing world-class talent to Lower Manhattan. Our programming features internationally-acclaimed talent in the areas of music, dance, film, cabaret and lecture.

12 January 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Musicians of the Highest Order: An Interview with the Legendary Béla Fleck

All of us at the Schimmel are ecstatic to be welcoming back premiere banjo legend, Béla Fleck. Mr. Fleck sold out our house two years ago with his acclaimed “Banjo Summit.” This time, he is partnering with the enterprising new chamber orchestra from Brooklyn, The Knights. I recently corresponded with the great banjo legend about his upcoming concert on Wednesday, January 28.

The one and only, Béla Fleck!

The one and only, Béla Fleck!



MT: How did this collaboration come about? Had you been aware of, The Knights’ work prior to this collaboration?


BF: I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Brooklyn Rider, which features two members of the Knights. Everything I heard about the Knights from BR made them seem like a group that I would really enjoy working with. As I was getting to know these guys, my concerto was about to be released on Dutsche Grammophon, and they were intrigued by the idea of playing it with the Knights. Any opportunity to hang with the brothers Jacobson is one to be pursued!


MT: As the undisputable master of the banjo, do you find yourself still learning about your chosen instrument? Has the collaboration with The Knights taught you anything new?


BF: We have yet to actually play any notes together, everything at this point is on the drawing board, as our rehearsal/performing dates loom closer. We will rehearse in the week leading up to the first performances in January.


MT: This is not your first collaboration. You have worked with a wide range of artists including Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, Chick Corea, your wife; Abigal Washburn, as well as many others. What traits do you look for in other artists when choosing to collaborate with them?


BF: I look for people that I have something to learn from, people I can offer something to, and people who I have a good time being with. These folks satisfy all 3 requirements!


MT: Certainly, your concerto and this tour makes the case that the banjo deserves a seat at the classical music table alongside other string instruments like the violin and viola. What would you say to a person who doesn’t think the banjo’s history lends itself to orchestral music.


BF: Wrong you are! I am certain that the banjo and it’s cousins existed far before the violin family came into vogue. Remember the banjo came over from Africa in the early slave days. And It was an ancient instrument already. Now it certainly has been modified and cleaned up from the 1700′s on, but the instruments in Africa haven’t changed much. Pete Seeger maintained to me that the banjo actually migrated to Africa from the Tigris Euphrades River in what what we now call Iraq.


MT: What would you like the audience to take away from this concert?


BF: I’d love for them to say that they heard something that they never heard before, and had a blast during the process.


MT: You are known for your ability to convey many different musical styles on the banjo. Having studied in New York City, do you feel that the city’s musical landscape helped shape your eclectic repertoire?


Yes, I do. Growing up in NYC during the 60′s and 70′s meant that I was hearing a lot of music that Earl Scruggs didn’t hear in his youth. I didn’t grow up in a cabin home on the hill, and my musical personality derives a lot from it.


MT: Two years ago, your, “Banjo Summit,” sold out the Schimmel Center. Are you excited to be returning to the venue?


BF: Boy, was that was a fun show! I remember the joy and energy we had that night, and I look forward to the same high spirits but with a completely different musical offering. That’ll be our first show together, so it should be very exciting.

See you there soon!


The Knights with Special Guest Star: Béla Fleck; Wednesday Januar 28th; 7:30pm; Schimmel Center at Pace University, 3 Spruce St, New York, NY 10038; Ticket Prices $59 | $49 | $39; Call (866) 811-4111, (212) 346-1716 or visit schimmel.pace.edu



23 December 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Musicians of the Highest Order: An Interview with Colin Jacobsen, Artistic Director of “The Knights.”

All of us at the Schimmel are very excited to be welcoming Brooklyn’s most dynamic and exciting new Chamber Orchestra, The Knights. The group will be playing with special guest, Béla Fleck, the undisputed banjo master for one night only on Wednesday, January 28. I recently sat down to ask Colin Jacobsen, Artistic Director of The Knights, about this grand collaboration.

Eric Jacobsen, Co-Artistic Director of The Knights and brother of Colin Jacobsen.

Eric Jacobsen, Co-Artistic Director of The Knights and brother of Colin Jacobsen.

MT: Part of your group’s mission statement is to encourage musical discovery by honoring classical composition alongside contemporary works. Where does this idea stem from?
CJ: One of the great aspects of music is its ability to look, Janus-headed, in many different directions and at many different dimensions in the moment. When we are in the moment of performance, we are aware of the action we are doing and the sound we are making. But we are looking to the future as we spin out the sound-story and we are also reacting to what we just played a microsecond before. This allows us to be empathetic listeners as well as doers. I say this because, if you extend that thinking to the orchestral tradition, you see it constantly looking to the past in order to reinvigorate itself, so it’s only natural that we continue in that vein. Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn only really created their greatest works after they had rediscovered Handel and Bach. Debussy became fascinated with the music of Palestrina and Couperin, which helped to define his musical voice. The Knights, one and all, grew up with our instruments and the 400-ish year traditions we’ve inherited. So that’s the ground where we first encountered each other and one that is rich in cultural values that have been passed down, encoded in that music. But every generation needs to come to its own terms with the lessons of the past, and one way to become better interpreters of old music is to live and breathe new music. We strive to live the motto: play new music like it’s a familiar friend (yet full of surprises) and older music like it’s being heard for the first time. 

MT: Do you feel that the eclectic musical landscape of New York lends to the essence of your mission?
CJ: Certainly- but that eclectic landscape is not limited to New York now. With the internet and the rate of change worldwide, most people are exposed to a wide variety of sounds. The challenge is how to embrace that diversity/eclecticism while chiseling out a unique voice.

MT: One does not usually think of the banjo and chamber music in the same context; has Béla Fleck been a great musical influence of yours?
CJ: It depends on how one defines chamber music – which I would take primarily to mean an elevated level of communication between a relatively small group of musicians. I’ve had the opportunity to see Béla with the “House Band” of the Telluride Bluegrass festival (people like Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, etc. who’ve played with each other in different combinations over many years), with African musicians and with Chick Corea and Marcus Roberts. All of those interactions fit my ideal of great chamber music, which involves serious radar and active listening so that the moment becomes fraught with possibility within whatever the frame is. It just so happens that in those collaborations the frame was bluegrass and jazz, whereas with The Knights, the framework is classical. And yes, Béla’s an inspiration in the way he keeps putting himself out there, doing new projects, challenging himself, his fellow musicians, and fans to take musical and personal risks.

MT: Compared to other instruments in the string family, the banjo has a rather short history. Does this concert make the argument that the Banjo has a place in the realm of classical music?

CJ: That may depend on how you define “history of the banjo.” If you go to its African roots (as Béla did on his Throw Down Your Heart project), it goes back much further. And in the early 20th century, Kurt Weill made extensive use of the banjo in his music (is his music classical? Don’t know, don’t care- it’s great). But I believe the question of whether an instrument has a place in any kind of music, if it isn’t commonly found there, is only limited by one’s imagination and courage. Basically, in music, anything can work! (Though often it doesn’t and there are all sorts of failed experiments). In the words of fashion guru Tim Gunn, “Make it work.” Béla does.

MT: How did this collaboration come about? How does this collaboration further your mission?
CJ: I romantically like to think there’s a gravitational pull that musicians have towards other like-minded musicians. Luckily for us, Béla wanted to tour his concerto and decided that we would be good partners. As for The Knights, every time we work with someone from the outside, there’s an opportunity for growth.

MT: You have developed a reputation for bringing music to the people by way of pop-up performances and internet videos. Is making music accessible in this way important to who you are as artists?

CJ: I’d like to think that there’s an element of positive deviancy within the spirit of The Knights. Taking your instruments out and simply playing something where it’s not expected is one way of transforming a space in a joyful way. A few years ago, a Knights violinist saw Harlem Shake go viral in its initial stage. We were about to go on tour, and he said, “It’s on- we’re doing the Harlem Shake.” I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but I knew the answer was “Yes.” We want to reach people with our music where they are, so it may only be natural that we have some bits floating around in the web as well. (Should you happen to check out our Harlem video- it bears repeated viewing and a careful look at peoples’ costumes and what they’re doing. And then please do stop by our Beethoven video as well…)

MT: What would you like the audience to take away from this concert?
CJ: The Tragicomical Nature of Life. 

MT: You are still a young group, yet you have already accomplished so much. Are you pleased with the repertoire that you have put out? Where would you like to see, “The Knights,” in the next few years?
CJ: We’re thrilled that today’s concert is the official release of our latest album, the ground beneath our feet - which is also the title of the piece co-created by several Knights that ends the program. This album looks at concerti grossi (pieces for 2 or more soloists in dialogue within the greater whole) from Bach to Stravinsky, with a piece by Reich and a collaboration with a Persian hammered dulcimer virtuoso. In general, recording is one great way to focus artistic thinking, and between this latest album, A Second of Silence (Schubert alongside Feldman, Glass and Satie), an all Beethoven album, and Shostakovich/Hendrix, you can get a greater sense of The Knights.
I think in the next few years, we’d like to keep seeking out fresh and interesting collaborators, create new work both externally and internally, continue to delve deep into the rich orchestral tradition, and find meaningful connections between that tradition, our lives and the world around us. 

MT: Is there any particular repertoire that you would like to tackle in the future? Any future collaborators you would like to work with?
CJ: We may be working with a couple of excellent choruses in the near future. And we will be touring Europe with Dawn Upshaw. It’s always great to work with the human voice! Some other vocalists who would be amazing to work with? Hmm… how about Bjork, Mark Padmore, Miah Persson, Camilla Tilling, Esperanza Spalding, Caetano Veloso, Stevie Wonder, Sufjan Stevens. Some instrumentalists: Radu Lupu, Kristian Bezoutenhuidt, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer…
For more on this incredible concert event, check back next week for an exciting interview with the banjo master himself, Béla Fleck.

See you at the Schimmel!
Michael Scott-Torbet
2014-15 Blogger
The Knights with Special Guest Star Béla Fleck; Wednesday, January 28; 7:30p; Tickets $59/ $49/ $39; call our box office at (212) 346-1715 or visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/938584


04 December 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Cracking Nuts: Fun Facts about, “The Nutcracker,” Ballet

It’s that time of year (when the world falls in love) and when the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet takes over the Schimmel stage to present their production of that perennial favorite ballet, The Nutcracker. To celebrate the ballet’s return, I thought I would present some trivia about the time honored classic!

Gesey Kirkland Ballet's production of The Nutcracker

Gesey Kirkland Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, Photo Credit Kevin Yatarola


Based on Dark Material

The famous ballet is based on the fairy tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by German author E.T.A Hoffman. The original tale includes a back story for the prince who was cursed when helping a spoiled princess named, “Pirlipat,”who had been turned into a nutcracker by the queen of the mice. The ballet’s libretto follows the French adaptation of the tale which was penned by Alexandre Dumas père. The French story leaves out the sinister back story. While The Gelsey Kirkland production also leaves out the “Pirlipat plot line,” it retains a lot of the dark undertones from the original story.

Double Billing

The original production was staged by famed choreographer Marius Petipa on December 18, 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Mariinsky Theatre. The ballet had to be double billed along with an opera which was also composed by Tchaikovsky called, Iolanta. The Gelsey Kirkland version uses the original Petipa choreography for their Grand Pas De Deux in Act 2.


Inferior Feelings

Tchaikovsky considered his score for The Nutcracker to be inferior to other works such as Sleeping Beauty (1890). Perhaps it is ironic that The Nutcracker is his most famous and iconic score becoming synonymous with Christmas. The Gelsey Kirkland version will be danced to the original Tchaikovsky score which is quite beautiful.

 Suite Success

Ironically, the original production was a huge critical flop. Despite this, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite was a huge commercial success and sold many copies of sheet music.

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet's Production of The Nutcracker, Photo Credit Kevin Yatarola

Gelsey Kirkland Ballet’s Production of The Nutcracker, Photo Credit Kevin Yatarola


Celestial Overtones

One of the more famous songs featured in The Nutcracker Suite is titled “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” The arrangement features an unusual instrument called a celesta. The celesta is similar to a piano except it contains metal plates instead of strings. The celesta adds to the ethereal sound of the piece. Tchaikovsky had discovered the instrument when on holiday in Paris. In the Gelsey Kirkland version of the ballet, Marie dances, “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” herself to convey her journey into adulthood.


“I left my Nutcracker in San Fransico”

The Nutcracker’s full length production first appeared in the United States in 1944, by the San Francisco Opera Ballet under the direction of William Christensen. Today, The Nutcracker enjoys more success in the U.S. than any other country around the world.


See You at the Schimmel

Michael Scott-Torbet



Gelsey Kirkland Ballet: “The Nutcracker”; December 11 - December 21$59 | $49 | $39; all our box office at (212) 346-1715 or visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/938666 








02 December 2014 ~ 0 Comments

A Message from our Executive Director on this Day of Giving!

Dear Schimmel Patron,

What better way to celebrate the holiday season than by giving forward.

We, at the Schimmel, are committed to bringing you world-class entertainment each year at a reasonable ticket price. In order to do so, we ask that, in light of #GivingTuesday and the year’s end, please join us a Schimmel member.

It’s easy, quick and will be deeply appreciated. Every donation is important to us.

Schimmel Center at Pace University, Executive Director, Martin Kagan

Schimmel Center at Pace University, Executive Director, Martin Kagan. Photo Credit Kevin Yatarola


Just follow this LINK!

Please join your fellow Schimmel patrons in helping to make the Schimmel Center’s programming flourish.

If you have questions, please contact me at 212.346.1231.

Happiest of holidays and I look forward to seeing you soon!

Martin I. Kagan


05 November 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Béla Fleck announced as The Knight’s special guest!

The exuberant and contemporary chamber orchestra, The Knights, is coming to the Schimmel on Wednesday, January 28, for an exciting concert performance. Joining them will be 15 time Grammy award winner, Béla Fleck. Mr. Fleck is known world over as the world’s premier banjo player. Mr. Fleck sold out two years ago with our Banjo Summit, so be sure to book your tickets today!

The one and only, Béla Fleck!

The one and only, Béla Fleck!

The Knights with special guest star, Béla Fleck; Wednesday, January 28 at 7:30pm; Ticket Prices$59 | $49 | $39; call (212) 346-1715 or visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/938584 for tickets.