Bella Bela

A small part of Bela Fleck's arsenal(Photo: belafleck.com)
A small part of Bela Fleck's arsenal(Photo: belafleck.com)

Experimentation has brought the world wonderful things – light bulbs, automobiles, airplanes, the ability to deep fry an entire turkey. Ok, maybe the jury’s still out on that.  Still, some of the worlds best discoveries have begun with the words, “I wonder what would happen if we _______?”

Experimentation has always been a key component of music making.  Some changes have been revolutionary, such as the work done by Bartolomeo Cristofori, which led to the modern piano.  Others have been, well, less successful, such as the hornbone, said to be something akin to a natural horn and a trombone which collided at a high rate of speed.

Bela Fleck is an unapologetic experimenter.  He loves to stretch himself and take his instrument, the banjo, to places you’d least expect to find it.  His first foray into classical music resulted in the recording Perpetual Motion, on which he performs music by J.S. Bach, Frederic Chopin, Peter Tchaikovsky, Niccolo Paganini, and others.  Fleck and his group The Flecktones came to Columbus not long after that was released to perform with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra.

Fleck said he could have just composed something for his instrument and orchestra, but felt that he wanted to see if classical music could be adapted to his instrument.  He said doing the notation was quite time-consuming.  Even more taxing was the physical aspect of playing the music.  He said that performing classical music on the banjo required regular sessions with a physical therapist because of the strain it put on his hands and arms.

Fleck has now returned to the orchestral realm, this time with one of his own compositions.  In a conversation with Jacki Lyden on All Things Considered, NPR music producer, reporter and blogger Tom Huizenga looks at Bela Fleck’s new recording The Imposter, as well as three other intriguing new releases.

Read and Listen to Banjos, Bartók And La Belle Époque: New Classical Albums (NPR)

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