© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Grammy-winning mandolinist Chris Thile returns to Norfolk

Bluegrass artist Chris Thile will perform in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Newport News as part of the Virginia Arts Festival.
Courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival
Bluegrass artist Chris Thile will perform in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Newport News as part of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Vocal issues kept the bluegrass star from debuting his orchestral piece in Norfolk with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra last year.

Chris Thile will return to Norfolk after illness kept him from debuting an original work last year commissioned by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Virginia Arts Festival in Norfolk.

The bluegrass artist will perform “ATTENTION!,” for three nights in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Newport News. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra and members of the Virginia Symphony Chorus will back Thile and his virtuosic mandolin playing.

Thile said the narrative song cycle is written for “extroverted mandolin and orchestra.”

After the Norfolk cancellation last year, Thile premiered his work at Tanglewood Music Center with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He’s since performed “ATTENTION!” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra and others.

“It’s one part mandolin, one part one-man musical,” Thile said, “but where the one man is also another hundred musicians.”

Thile framed the piece around a personal tale.

Without giving too much away, “it’s the story of me meeting Carrie Fisher in a rooftop bar in the mid-2000s,” he said. “It’s one of the craziest stories I have. Probably the very craziest.”

Thile has been known as a prolific artist since he was young. A gifted mandolin player from the start, he was a member of acclaimed bluegrass band Nickel Creek by 8 years old, and released his first solo album at just 13.

Thile started bluegrass band Punch Brothers in 2008, with whom he won another Grammy. Thile took over NPR’s long-running “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2016 and hosted it as “Live From Here” until its cancelation in 2020.

In 2021, as much of the world crept out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thile released Laysongs, a stripped-down album featuring only his mandolin and voice in original compositions.

“He’s so brilliant, so joyous — such a special artist,” Virginia Symphony Orchestra Music Director Eric Jacobsen said.

The Virginia Symphony and Virginia Arts Festival commissioned Thile in 2022. He and Jacobsen are friends in the small Venn diagram where classical and bluegrass overlap.

Jacobsen’s wife, Grammy winner Aoife O’Donovan, has performed with Thile for years.

Jacobsen approached Thile first in the early 2010s about a new classical piece for New York City-based chamber orchestra The Knights, which Jacobsen runs with his brother.

“It just wasn’t the right time,” Jacobsen said. But he got another chance.

“Our families became close, and during COVID, we spent some holidays together…I just remember him saying, ‘Oh, remember that piece that you were talking about? Yeah? I think it’s time.’”

Also on Jacobsen’s program will be “Starburst” by Virginia Arts Festival Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade

“ATTENTION!” will be performed at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk on June 13 at 7:30 p.m.; Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach on June 14 at 7:30 p.m.; and the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News on June 15 at 7:30 p.m. 

For tickets and other information, visit the Virginia Arts Festival.

WHRO's Vice President of News, Maurice Jones, is chair of the Virginia Arts Festival Board of Directors and WHRO's President and CEO Bert Schmidt is a member of Virginia Arts Festival's Board of Directors. Jones and Schmidt are not involved with WHRO Journalism's editorial decisions.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.