Orchestra collective, The Knights, caught in a mash-up of time at Tanglewood


LENOX >> The Knights opened their Tanglewood concert with a solo violin playing "La Marseillaise" in remembrance of the victims of the day's French terrorist attack. It was a somber but timely beginning for a program based on the concept of time.

In a return to Ozawa Hall on Thursday night, the Brooklyn orchestra collective alternated classical symphonies by Haydn and Schubert with American pop. The idea was that time takes different forms in different, well, times. The program was billed, with a nod to a certain someone, as "The Times, They Are A-Changin'."

In short, a mash-up. You could forget the concept, which was pretty thin, and sit back for the performances, which came with the crossover band's particular brand of brio.

Present and past mashed up most conspicuously in Gabriel Kahane's "Crane Palimpsest," based on verses from Hart Crane's poem "To Brooklyn Bridge." The plan here was that Kahane, as composer-vocalist, would sing his settings of five excerpts from the poem, each followed in continuous fashion by a response in his own Brooklyn lyrics (e.g., "BMT," "Hicks Street").

The bustling orchestral accompaniment aptly conveyed nervous urban energy. Less fortunately, Kahane's pop-style singing into microphones made the texts so unintelligible that you couldn't even tell where Crane (the palimpsest) left off and Kahane's lyrics began — never mind the meaning of the words. Since there were no printed texts for the audience, it was impossible to know what to make of the piece. A sizable contingent in the back of the hall, however, cheered it lustily.

"Crane Palimpsest" was bracketed by Haydn's Symphony No. 64 and Schubert's No. 5. The somber Haydn symphony, appropriately enough, came with the ominous title "Tempora mutantur" ("changing times"). Schubert apparently made the cut because his cheerful symphony was the work of a 16-year-old.

The performances, without a conductor, were dramatically charged but inadvertently made a point about time: On modern instruments, they made a bigger, deeper sound than would have been possible in Schubert's day.

Pop got the last word: arrangements of "The Big Noise from Winnetka," David Bowie's "Heroes" (sung by Christina Courtin) and Bob Dylan's warning about the times, with Courtin and Kahane as vocalists. Energy poured off the stage. These musicians were equally engaged in the present and the past. The times may be changin' but with their crossover outlook, The Knights are of their time.


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