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Chris Thile Premieres His Mandolin Concerto with Colorado Symphony

Chris Thile outdoors by Cassandra Jenkins

Chris Thile's The Blind Leaving the Blind, a 40-minute, four-movement suite, is at the heart of Punch Brothers’ Nonesuch debut album, Punch, released in 2008. Now, the composer-singer-mandolin player unveils his first Mandolin Concerto, Ad astra per alas porci, live with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under music director Jeffrey Kahane, at Denver's Boettcher Concert Hall this Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. The performances are part of the orchestra's American Festival, also featuring Copland's Suite from Billy the Kid and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Thile brought his Mandolin Concerto to Interlochen Center for the Arts earlier this summer, to give it a trial run in a July concert with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) that also happened to feature Copland's Appalachian Spring and Fanfare for the Common Man. WYSO's director, Jung-Ho Pak, in an interview with the Traverse City Record-Eagle, called the concerto "a very deep and richly complex and though-out piece. My breath is taken away."

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Leading to this week's official premiere in Denver, Thile talked to Sequenza 21, the contemporary classical music site, about the new piece. In an interview with John Clare, Thile discusses the conception behind the piece, beginning with its title, Ad astra per alas porci, translated as "To the stars on the wings of a pig." It was a favorite phrase of John Steinbeck, Thile explains, meant to express the human duality of, at once, being earth-bound and aspiring for a higher beauty; a fitting phrase for his own artistic efforts.

Thile goes on to discuss his writing process, and his interest, as a composer, instrumentalist, and vocalist, in exploring music across a diverse array of styles. "As long as I have something to play, something to sing, something to write," he says, "I'll be happy."

Listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of the audio interview at sequenza21.com.

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There's also an extensive interview with Thile about the concerto on violinist.com. "I feel like I've done a lot of examining of the mandolin's
possibilities," Thile tells the site's Laurie Niles, "but this is the culmination of my efforts in that
direction thus far." There's much more at violinist.com.

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For information on upcoming performances of Thile's Mandolin Concerto with orchestras across the country, visit nonesuch.com/on-tour/chris-thile. For upcoming Punch Brothers dates, visit nonesuch.com/on-tour/punch-brothers.

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