Last night's event at Galapagos in DUMBO was rather amazing. I have seen Chris Thile with the Punch Brothers, with Edgar Meyer at Carnegie Hall, with Brad Mehldau. Last night, he was solo, improvising. Well, not exactly. A string quartet from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra played five of John Adams "Dances" pieces. And in between each piece, Thile improvised four selections, riffing off of Adams' work and taking it any direction that he saw fit. The premise was to address American vernacular music -- how Adams interpreted the "genre" paired with the mandolin, a main instrument in the American art of "bluegrass."
The juxtaposition of the syncopated "dances" and their subtle changes with the solo Mandolin was quite successful. While the quartet played, I watched Thile bobbing his head, smiling at playful sections, and fingering his instrument's neck, putting to memory how he would respond. And then to be able to see him play in such an intimate setting, unaccompanied -- there were a few moments when he was strumming and with each up pick he laid out this simple melody. So wonderful . . .
The second half of the evening was the (full?) Orpheus Chamber Orchestra playing Copeland's Appalachian Spring. As beautiful as you could imagine. It was impressive how just a few instruments could produce such a full and moving sound. (And throughout the performance, I realized how fitting the name of the composition is -- the music painted a vibrant image of spring in the mountains.)
All of this in the enchanting space of the Galapagos Art Center, with the water flowing underneath the floor, little bubbling off to my left. Red lights cast upward on the poured concrete walls.
(And to top it off, I bumped into Howard Stern on my way to the bathroom. Seeing him there made me smile.)