Béla Fleck performs his Banjo Concerto in his Cleveland Orchestra debut at Severance Hall tonight, December 6, 7, and 8. Giancarlo Guerrero leads all-American program, including Gershwin's An American in Paris. The December 7 concert continues KeyBank Fridays@7 series, and the concerts continue tonight, December 6, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, December 8, at 8 p.m.
Giancarlo Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony and principal guest conductor of Cleveland Orchestra Miami, conducts The Cleveland Orchestra in concerts at Severance Hall featuring Béla Fleck as soloist in the first Cleveland performances of his Concerto for Banjo. The program also includes John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Aaron Copland's Suite from Billy the Kid, concluding with George Gershwin's An American in Paris.
Béla Fleck, considered by many to be the premier banjo player in the world, wrote his Concerto for Banjo in 2010-11 on a commission from the Nashville Symphony. The world premiere of the Concerto was given by that orchestra, conducted by its music director, Giancarlo Guerrero, on September 22, 2011, with the composer as soloist. The Concerto is dedicated to Earl Scruggs (1924-2012), whose innovative three-finger picking style is now the standard for mastering the banjo, and whose banjo playing for the Beverly Hillbillies television show was an early inspiration to Béla Fleck.
Fleck's Banjo Concerto was described in the Birmingham News (following a January 2012 performance by the Alabama Symphony, the second orchestra to perform the work) as probing "the instrument's depth and diversity with complex textures, frequent meter changes, and demanding technique. Hints of blues and bluegrass are never far away, a palpable tie-in with genres that elevated Fleck to his exalted position in the banjo world."
Béla Fleck has won multiple Grammy Awards and is perhaps best known for his work with the groups New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. The Concerto for Banjo is Fleck's first large-scale classical composition. He has collaborated with other musicians on two previous classical compositions: the Concerto for Banjo and Bass, written with bassist Edgar Meyer (premiered with the Nashville Symphony in 2003) and a triple concerto titled The Melody of Rhythm, written with Meyer and tabla player Zakir Hussain (premiered at the concert that inauguraTed Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2006).
Beginning one hour prior to the Thursday and Saturday concerts, a Concert Preview titled "Portraits of America" will be given in Reinberger Chamber Hall by Susan McClary, professor of music at Case Western Reserve University. The series is funded by a generous endowment gift from Dorothy Humel Hovorka.