Edgar Meyer: Double Bass
Chris Thile: Mandolin
Who said that classical music fans are closed-minded, insufferable snobs? Last night, I was happy to prove all these naysayers wrong by having a ball at a bluegrass concert at the Lisner Auditorium, on the George Washington University campus. It is a no-frill space, but the acoustics are decent and it is conveniently located. It is not one of my usual haunts, but every performance I’ve attended there more than met my expectations, and yesterday was no exception. Last time I was at the Lisner Auditorium was actually about a year ago, and it was to hear Edgar Meyer share the stage with Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas. All three prodigious and widely recognized musicians, they had treated us to a fun concert, full of easy banter and sparkling virtuosity. I wanted some more.
Last night I was back on this still-not-quite-familiar territory for Edgar Meyer again together with Chris Thile this time, the latter being a young but already very well-established mandolin prodigy. My friend Deborah, a mandolin aficionada herself, was with me and filled me in on the art of mandolin playing. While we expected an evening of impressive but kind-of-predictable bluegrass virtuoso feats, we quickly realized that the two musicians were determined to go well past and beyond the call of duty as they played a much more indefinable, complex kind of music, expertly mixing bluegrass, folk, country, jazz and a little bit of classical for good measure. Most of the pieces came from the new album they’ve recently recorded together and were at the same time unassumingly down-to-earth and extremely finely crafted. At some point, they also performed their own version of several short pieces by Bach, and their interpretation proved to be inventive, fun and respectful.
After the intermission and a few more numbers, they took suggestions from the audience while collecting random elements for a short story they were to put to music on the spot. The narrative ended up including, in no particular order, Cookie Monster, a koto factory, a garbage chute, a luge, and an alluring Cookie “Monstress.” The result was a short musical piece composed on the fly, and this little improvised adventure rightfully turned out to be a big hit with the audience.
The whole concert was a light-hearted, effortlessly creative and incredibly rich dialogue between the two men and their instruments, proving one more time that in the right company, less is more often than not more.