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



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