Thomas Joiner had been hearing it from members of his board of directors for years — that the Hendersonville Symphony should bring in The Kruger Brothers as musical guests.
At the time, however, the popular Swiss bluegrass musicians didn’t have any of their music arranged for orchestra. “I told the board, ‘Let me know when they do,'” Joiner recalls. “About two years ago they created orchestral arrangements to be played along with about two dozen of their songs, and titled it Music From The Spring. I listened to some of the arrangements and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s start working on this to get it booked.”
Jens Kruger is a world-class banjo player, and his brother Uwe Kruger is the group’s voice and a highly accomplished guitarist. Several years ago they moved, with bassist Joel Landsberg, to Wilkesboro, NC, home of Merlefest and arguably the center of the bluegrass universe. The group’s new CD, Forever And A Day, shows off their trademark mix of European classical influences along with American folk and bluegrass styles, played with plenty of wit and heart.
Joiner, the Hendersonville Symphony’s conductor and music director, is a violinist himself (and Professor of Violin and Orchestral Activities at Furman University). “It all seems like a very unlikely scenario to me,” he admits. “The Kruger Brothers were playing bluegrass in Switzerland. They came over here on tour…and there was just something about this part of the country. Bluegrass has spread worldwide, and certainly reaches people wherever they are. There’s just something infectious and joyful about it, and they’re virtuosic players — that intrigued me as well.”
Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring will open their May 22 concert. “It’s a famous classical piece originally written for the Martha Graham Dance Company as a ballet, and it uses the Shaker tune Simple Gifts as sort of a tie-together,” Joiner says. The symphony will also perform fiddler Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz. “Mark has composed fiddle concertos with orchestra, and I’ve performed with him a couple times,” the conductor says. “He’s a pied piper in the fiddle world, and this is where some of the term ‘newgrass’ came from. A lot of musicians, like the Kruger Brothers, had their roots in original bluegrass music or old timey Appalachian fiddlin’, or Texas Swing fiddlin’, and they began to write music that had a lot of different styles to it.”
The Kruger Brothers will play a couple numbers themselves to open the second half of the show. “To introduce themselves,” Joiner explains. “When they have to play with 80 other musicians there’s probably a little of their freedom lost, when there’s a conductor up there and everything.” The Brothers will then join the symphony to perform their Music From The Spring.
The symphony will rehearse four times for the concert, and the Kruger Brothers will fly in the day before the show for the dress rehearsal, according to Joiner. “I’m going to meet them that afternoon to compare notes, get tempos for the pieces,” he says. “It’s the conductor’s responsibility to keep the orchestra with the soloists. It’s not my job to ask them to play it differently; it’s my job to get the orchestra with them, with what they want to do. They’ve done this a few times with orchestra — they’ll tell me spots that have been troublesome in rehearsals or performance.
“This is not complex music like some classical symphony that changes tempos all the time, so in some ways it should be relatively simple to play. The only issues that I would foresee are in the fastest numbers, to get a large group like an orchestra to stay with them if they’re playing fast. But it’s a pretty experienced group of musicians, and I think they’ll be eager to do something a little bit different.”
Joiner expects a good number of people at the concert who have never heard the symphony before. “One reason for this is to do something a little lighter than Beethoven symphonies, to try to attract a new audience,” he says. “And regular symphony subscribers might hear a little bluegrass that they’re not used to listening to. I’m hoping they’ll enjoy both the bluegrass and the classical music. There are a lot of similarities and tie-ins between the two. Bluegrass was originally conceived as an instrumental form, and most of the instruments were acoustic stringed instruments.”
Joiner will enlist the full string section for Music From The Spring. “It’s got woodwinds and some trombones, but that’s not the main sound. It’s just full orchestra enhancement. I don’t think they rearranged any of their music to fit with an orchestra, they just added orchestra parts to enhance what they’re doing. The music is very attractive. It’s sort of energizing and catchy to listen to very finely played bluegrass. They’ve got some touching ballads, and it’s all about this part of the country too, so there are a lot of different connections.
“It’s interesting to do a style of music that you don’t normally associate with a symphony orchestra,” Joiner smiles. “I may put down my baton and grab my fiddle and see what comes out.”
Black And White Ball
The Hendersonville Symphony League holds its first annual Black And White Ball on Saturday, May 15, at Kenmure Country Club, with all proceeds going to benefit the Hendersonville Symphony and Youth Symphonies. “The Youth Symphonies are a big part of what we do,” says Symphony League president Donna Hastie. “We have two youth symphony orchestras, both of them doing very well. Our Hendersonville Youth Symphony Orchestra — it had about 25 in it, and now it has 60. They’ve come so far.”
The Black and White Ball will start at 6pm with cocktails and a silent auction. Dinner will be served at 7:30, with dancing to the music of Top Hat throughout the evening. There will be a live auction by Richard Hatch at 8:30. “We asked for treasures,” Hastie says, “and Henry Doscher of Tryon donated a valuable antique miniature car collection — 42 miniature automobiles, which he’s been collecting since World War II, along with two lovely wall display cabinets. We’re going to have some great getaway vacations that folks might really enjoy. And we have a beautiful painting by the popular local artist Marsha Hammel, so we have some lovely things in our auction this year.
“The Black And White Ball, I think, will be an elegant evening of dining, dancing, and lively bidding.” Invitations have been mailed to past donors. Additional invitations may be requested by calling 696-2343.
Formed last year, the Hendersonville Symphony League also develops interest and promotes symphonic music appreciation in the community. The Hendersonville Symphony celebrates its 40th Anniversary next year, and Hastie is excited about the public’s response to the May 22 concert with The Kruger Brothers. “We are getting calls from Charlotte and beyond. If you like bluegrass, and you like symphony, it doesn’t get much better than this.”