A lecture hall by day, James R. Cox Auditorium became the nucleus of campus Tuesday when renowned musicians Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile took the stage for what was one of the greatest concerts the university has ever hosted. Classical bassist Meyer and mandolin player Thile made Knoxville the last stop on their tour together. Since both musicians are regarded as virtuosos of their respective instruments, the two gave a lasting performance that surpassed the audience’s expectations.
The stage was simply set: two microphones, two stools and two bottles of water. There were no fancy lights or extra props; Meyer and Thile were not in pursuit of a manufactured mood and neither was the audience.
To the delight of a suddenly alert and quiet audience, the two dove gracefully into the first set once they appeared on stage.
One of the first favorites of the night was “The Farmer and the Duck,” a song that Meyer and Thile wrote together. With his deeper and more authoritative instrument, Meyer assumed the role of the farmer, while Thile’s high-pitched, playful notes resembled the duck. Thile, sneaking into louder and livelier mandolin lines with a hopeful grin, received stern looks from Meyer and sunk reluctantly back into the pattern of the song. Their comedic interaction during the tune gave the “The Farmer and the Duck” new life, something that can be experienced only in a live performance.
A few songs later, they turned in a direction opposite from “The Farmer and the Duck” and played a medley of three Bach pieces. The first piece was originally written to be an organ duet, but Meyer and Thile combined technical precision and grace for their own unique rendition of the classical works.
The two instrumentalists then changed playing styles with ease, seamlessly moving right into some pure bluegrass numbers. Thile’s fingers skimmed effortlessly over the strings of his mandolin, and Meyer played his bass as though it were a fiddle.
At one point, his younger partner jokingly commented on his skill.
“He just likes to show off. He can play as high as me and then like five octaves lower,” Thile said to the audience.
After touring together for several months, Meyer and Thile seemed to have not only meshed musically, but also comically. They poked fun at each other’s defining characteristics between songs — Meyer consistently joked about his partner’s messy appearance and tendency to name his songs after girls, while Thile would counterattack with a comment about the endless shelves of Meyer’s records that were never purchased from the stores.
A particularly praiseworthy number of the night was the last tune of the second set, a beautiful piece in the key of F sharp minor. Both musicians gave a forewarning that mistakes were a possibility and that the audience could detect a high difficulty level in the first five seconds of the song. However, from the audience’s viewpoint, neither musician came within a mile of error. Thile’s elaborate picking and Meyer’s soulful bass solo effected many reactions from the stunned audience.
The musical exploration and innovation of the evening left audience members wide-eyed and inspired. After two standing ovations and an encore, everyone seemed to agree that the show was, from start to finish, a phenomenal showcase of talent. In simpler words: “It was killer,” said Jeff Coffin, world-renowned saxophonist for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and friend of Meyer and Thile.
His appearance at the concert surprised and delighted many jazz fans who were also in attendance.
“It has been truly wonderful,” said Meyer, in reference to playing with Thile.
And the satisfied faces of people leaving the Cox Auditorium Tuesday night seemed to say the same.
Meyer,Thile fascinate with simplicity
Published: Fri Feb 02, 2007 | Modified: Fri Feb 02, 2007 12:22 p.m.