The Mindful Bard – The Ground Beneath Our Feet

Album: The Ground Beneath Our Feet
Artist: The Knights

“We strive to play old music like it was written yesterday and inhabit new music in a way That’s familiar and natural. We are serious about having fun. We thrive on camaraderie and friendship. We cultivate a collaborative environment that honors a multiplicity of voices.”
– The Knights

If you can imagine the difference between a lark singing from a tree and a lark singing from the passion of its heart while soaring through the noon-day sky, you may be able to imagine the difference between Bach, for example, played by any old orchestra, and Bach played by The Knights, an orchestral collective from New York City. The collective was founded by two brothers, violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen, who now serve as co-artistic directors. The group’s name looks a bit bland until you find out that they once called themselves “The Knights of the Many-Sided Table,” at least until that name got too unwieldy.

The musicians appear to have started by getting together just to amuse themselves, but they somehow organically grew into the kind of orchestra everyone wanted to hear, garnering critical acclaim as well as opportunities for collaborations with Dawn Upshaw, Siamak Jahangiri, Mark O’Connor, Kinan Azmeh, Joshua Redman, Béla Fleck, Yo-Yo Ma, and Itzhak Perlman, among other ingenious notables.

What’s their secret? The Knights shamelessly and tirelessly work toward making the concertgoer’s experience as moving and engaging as possible, and they’ve had enormous success at this. The fact that the art world now accepts and allows such blatant crowd-pleasing, given that the inclination is traditionally to make art as difficult and dry as possible, is a wonderful sign.

Yet, as I so often say, the times they are-a-changing, and being that we are now undergoing a kind of romantic revival, it all fits. There’s no Beethoven on this album, but then they did an all-Beethoven album back in 2013, so we can forgive them for leaving the quintessential romantic composer off this disk.

The repertoire on The Ground Beneath Our Feet, their seventh album, does showcase one romantic composer (Haydn), as well as taking a romantic approach to baroque music (Bach), early 20th (Stravinksy), late 20th (Steve Reich), and the 21st century, represented by Colin Jacobsen, one of the orchestra’s founders, who contributes the avant garde composition Concerto for Santur, Violin, and Orchestra, a work that starts out postmodern minimalist and then develops to encompass what world music has evolved to become in its wholeness, richly complex yet authentic, assembling many disparate elements to create a magnificent musical panorama.

The title track is a gorgeously accompanied little song by the intriguing singer-songwriter Christina Courtin. I hope to be bringing you more about her at a later date.

Stravinksy’s Concerto in E-Flat Major (“Dumbarton Oaks”) at first doesn’t even sound like Stravinksy; It’s just so full of warmth. The fact that this album was recorded live at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., the estate where Stravinsky first premiered this piece, makes its inclusion especially apt.

Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe is played in a series of passionate sighs followed by a masterfully articulated skipping, racing, and tumbling, exactly the way Bach should be played.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet manifests four of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen.

– It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
– It provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
– It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
– It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.