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Oregonian: Chris Thile Reinvents His Instrument with Mandolin Concerto

Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer color

Chris Thile brings his Mandolin Concerto, Ad astra per alas porci, to the third city in as many weeks in a performance with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra at Birmingham's Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center tonight. Thile joined the Oregon Symphony this past weekend for the West Coast premiere of the piece. The Oregonian's Barry Johnson called it "nothing less than a reinvention of the possibilities of his instrument" from the "mandolin wizard Chris Thile."

The performance, held Saturday night at Portland's Schnitzer Hall, was part of a larger program that also included performances by bassist Edgar Meyer (Thile's collaborator on a 2008 Nonesuch release), tabla player Zakir Hussain, and banjo master Béla Fleck. Its success was a testament to Thile and his fellow performers' efforts "to define a new way of making music," says Johnson, "one not circumscribed by standard forms and the clichés that often sink them."

As in his work with Punch Brothers, Thile, in his Mandolin Concerto, takes his instrument and people's conceptions of it (and him), and makes something new. Rather than keep it within the confines of bluegrass, Thile let the mandolin "suggest lines and chords for the symphony rather than always madly dashing out inventive sketches," thereby allowing the performer/composer "to expand the mandolin's emotional range."

At the end of the scheduled program, Thile joined his fellow headliners for a jam session "to great effect," Johnson writes, "which shows how elastic his mind is for new sounds. He and Fleck had a breathtaking exchange of melody lines in one song, and his high octane fingering drew whoots of pleasure from his fans high in the balcony."

For a complete review of the weekend's event, visit The Oregonian's "Portland Arts Watch" blog at

After tonight's performance, Thile heads to Davidson, North Carolina, to join his fellow Punch Brothers on stage at the Duke Family Performance Hall at Davidson College. For more tour information, visit


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