Thile interview at

Chris ThileChris Thile will be debuting his new Mandolin Concerto with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Denver this weekend. The piece, in three movements, was commissioned by the Colorado Symphony (and six other orchestras) for mandolin and orchestra. It is scored for mandolin and pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, plus timpani, two percussionists, piano and strings.

The Concerto will be featured starting tonight (9/17), with additional shows this weekend (9/18-20) at the Boettcher Concert Hall in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. The program will also include performances of Aaron Copland’s Suite from Billy The Kid, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and William Hill’s Four Movements Musical. Quite an evening of modern music.

Chris was interviewed yesterday at about his new music…

“The piece is really all about me stretching myself, and thus the name, Ad astra per alas porci, which is Latin for ‘To the stars on the wings of a pig,'” Thile said. “It was Steinbeck’s personal motto, and he would always accompany it by saying, ‘I am earthbound, but aspiring.’ I love that. If that doesn’t describe the human condition, I don’t know what does. That’s what being a musician is all about to me, continually reaching out and trying to grasp things that are really sort of beyond me. Every now and then you get a little piece of it, and it just feels so good, it propels you forward, and you can grasp a little bit more the next time.”

I wondered if the concerto would sound like Bluegrass.

“No, I wouldn’t think,” Thile said. “Then again, it could strike someone who doesn’t have much in the way of Bluegrass background as having some of that flavor to it.”

“I’m just a bad judge of that kind of thing, because it all sounds the same to me, really, as far as the way I’m evaluating music at this point,” Thile said. “An A chord is an A chord, whether it’s Bluegrass or whether through some crazy pattern, Berg hits an A chord, it’s still an A chord. It’s the same thing, there’s no difference. The differences are all purely aesthetic, not structural. So I’m kind of a bad person to ask about that.”

You can read the full interview at

The Colorado Symphony program describes the genesis of Thile’s Concerto thusly:

The commission for the Mandolin Concerto arose because Chris Thile especially wanted to play a work with a symphony orchestra. This work combines the traditions of the concerto created by a virtuoso performer for his own use, and that of the composer who takes musical elements traditionally regarded as coming from “outside” sources, especially folk or traditional music. Over the years Chris Thile has not only absorbed bluegrass music and a large repertory of classical music as well, but he has been open to an incredibly wide range of musical styles as well and has made use of them in his concerto. Rather than fusing two types of music into a “stew” that contains “lumps” of the original styles mixed together, he aims to bring together a wider range of musical ideas‚Äî”of completely ambiguous origin,” he says‚Äîmore fully assimilated, so that the result is more of a “soup” than a stew.

The Mandolin Concerto is also scheduled for the following performances:

  • Oregon Symphony – September 26, 2009
  • Alabama Symphony – October 29, 2009
  • Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra – January 23-24, 2010
  • Winston-Salem Symphony – March 13, 14, 16, 2010
  • Delaware Symphony – March 19-20, 2010
  • Portland Symphony – March 28, 2010

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.