This from publicist Louise Barder:
“For more than 30 years, banjoist Béla Fleck…one of the world’s most accommodating virtuosos…has been pushing the boundaries of his instrument.”
— New York Times
Banjoist Béla Fleck – winner of 15 Grammy Awards and nominated in more categories than any other artist in Grammy history – is as iconic on his instrument as Vladimir Horowitz or Mstislav Rostropovich were on theirs. Now, like those classical greats, Fleck will be joining the storied roster of Deutsche Grammophon. Reaching beyond his exalted status as an “itinerant superpicker” (All Music Guide), he makes his DG/Mercury Classics debut as a composer-performer with The Impostor, to be released August 13. The album showcases Fleck’s title concerto for banjo and symphony orchestra, as well as Night Flight Over Water for banjo and string quartet. For The Impostor concerto, the banjoist teamed with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony (which commissioned the work); for Night Flight Over Water, a work commissioned by Butler University, Fleckpartnered with genre-bending quartet Brooklyn Rider. Fleck will be performing both of these works in the upcoming season, starting with The Impostor on August 21 with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Saratoga, NY. Further concerto dates follow in the fall with the North Carolina Symphony (Sept 24) and Indiana University Symphony (Oct 30). Fleck will also tour Night Flight Over Water extensively with Brooklyn Rider, beginning with a nine-date trek around North America in November.
Beyond recording and performing for ever-greater audiences with his bluegrass-fusion band, the Flecktones, for 25 years and counting, the ever-intrepid Fleck has collaborated with musicians across multiple genres and from around the globe – from composer-bassist pal Edgar Meyer to jazz pianists Chick Corea and Marcus Roberts, from Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain to such Malian artists as singer Oumou Sangaré and kora player Toumani Diabaté. Reviewing Perpetual Motion, Fleck’s 2001 collection of classical arrangements for his instrument, All Music Guide pointed out:“Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck has broken more boundaries than any other picker.” The New York Times went further: “Mr. Fleck can lay claim to the title of the most popular living banjoist, having done much to push the instrument beyond bluegrass terra firma into jazz, classical and beyond.”
Eyeing the realm of classical composition over the years, Fleck has watched closely as his bluegrass-steeped virtuoso friends Edgar Meyer, violinist Mark O’Connor and mandolinist Chris Thile each composed successful concertos for their own instruments. Fleck mentioned the idea of a banjo concerto to Nashville Symphony CEO Alan Valentine, and his enthusiasm was enough to spur Fleck on. “The fact that I had no qualifications whatsoever as a classical composer didn’t seem to bother him, and honestly it bothered me only a little,” Fleck says. “I’ve always enjoyed dreaming up challenging scenarios, and then digging deep and working obsessively to attempt to pull them off. The idea of playing jazz or classical pieces on the banjo, or interacting with African, Indian or Chinese musicians fits into that category of scenario, and it appeared that I’d done respectably enough at those to be given a chance to put on the composer’s hat and see how it fit.”
Fleck premiered his concerto The Impostor in September 2011 at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Center, with the dedicatee of the piece – Earl Scruggs – in the audience. “Earl is the man who brought banjo back to national prominence, starting in the 1940s, and he also inspired me to pick up the banjo,”Fleck says. “I’m glad to have had the gift of knowing him in his time. He passed away a few months after the premiere at age 88.”
Explaining the concerto’s title, Fleck says: “The title of the piece refers to what I came to realize it was about all along. Everyone knows the feeling of being the outsider, or the ‘other,’ that you really don’t belong. A musician like myself can feel that way pretty regularly, even though the point of much of what I do is to attempt to find ways to fit naturally into many diverse environments. Working in so many different kinds of music beyond my native genre, I often do feel like an impostor, as though if anyone ever figured out the truth I’d be ejected immediately.”
Night Flight Over Water
In the early 1980s, Fleck collaborated with Edgar Meyer on a work for the Blair String Quartet, and the experience made him eager to try a chamber work on his own. His ambitions really took off after encountering the members of Brooklyn Rider: Colin Jacobsen (violin), Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola) and Eric Jacobsen (cello).
“These guys are really good at new music, and they have a youthful sensibility that really makes sense for a piece that has many influences from outside of classical music,” Fleck says. “I listened to their music, and really enjoyed and respected their work. They were intrigued by the idea, too. I started out writing Night Flight Over Water by composing a dozen or so sketches. I took these up North, and Brooklyn Rider and I read through them together. The initial idea was that the ones that really worked out for this combination of instruments were the ones that I would use to build the piece from. But these guys were so good that they made everything I had come up with sound amazing – so it was very hard to figure out what not to use. The good part is that I came to realize that I could write virtually anything and they would be able to make it come alive.”
Beyond the November tour of North America, Fleck and Brooklyn Rider will continue to tour Night Flight Over Water in January and February 2014.
Born in 1958 in New York City, Fleck seemed destined to be a world-class musician from the start, having been named for three great composers: Béla (for Bartók), Anton (for Webern) and Leos (for Janáček). Already a powerfully creative force in bluegrass, jazz, pop, rock and world beat, Fleckmade the classical connection with Perpetual Motion, his 2001 recording that went on to win a pair of Grammy Awards, including Best Classical Crossover Album. Collaborating with the banjoist on Perpetual Motion was his longtime friend and colleague Edgar Meyer, a bassist whose virtuosity defies labels and who is also an acclaimed composer. Fleck and Meyer co-wrote and performed a double concerto for banjo, bass and orchestra, which they debuted with the Nashville Symphony in November 2003. They also co-wrote a triple concerto for banjo, bass and tabla – titled The Melody of Rhythm – with world-renowned tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain.”