The Knights are a collective of adventurous musicians, dedicated to transforming the orchestral experience and eliminating barriers between audiences and music. Driven by an open-minded spirit of camaraderie and exploration, they inspire listeners with vibrant programs that encompass their roots in the classical tradition and passion for artistic discovery. The orchestra has toured and recorded with renowned soloists including Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, Béla Fleck, and Gil Shaham, and have performed at Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, and the Vienna Musikverein.
The Knights evolved from late-night chamber music reading parties with friends at the home of violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen. The Jacobsen brothers, who are also founding members of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, serve as artistic directors of The Knights, with Eric Jacobsen as conductor. The Knights are committed to creating unusual and adventurous partnerships across disciplines; they perform in traditional concert halls as well as parks, plazas, and bars, all in an effort to reach listeners of all backgrounds and invite them into their music-making. Since incorporating in 2007, the orchestra has toured consistently across the United States and Europe.
The Knights have had an exciting 2017-18 season, a highlight of which was a U.S. tour with genre-defying Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital and Syrian clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh. Tour repertoire came from around the world, with arrangements and transcriptions by the artists themselves, and features the world premiere of Azmeh’s Triple Concerto for Clarinet, Mandolin, Violin and Orchestra. The Knights’ will complete their second Home Season in Brooklyn, in partnership with the downtown venue BRIC, presenting family concerts, evening performances, and a characteristically wide-ranging roster of guest artists. Programs include a collaboration with Puerto-Rican composer Angelica Negrón on her drag opera, a night of German lieder with Katja Herbers, as well as an exploration of the pervasive influence of Eastern European folk music. The Knights’ 2017 summer season encompassed a world premiere by composer Judd Greenstein and an East Coast premiere by Vijay Iyer; their tenth consecutive appearance in Central Park’s Naumburg Orchestral Concerts series; their fourth year at Tanglewood, a performance at the Ravinia Festival with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham; and a collaboration with choreographer John Heginbotham at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
In 2015, The Knights launched a partnership with BRIC with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As part of that initiative, The Knights performed with master violinist Gil Shaham on a North American tour, and on Shaham's Grammy-nominated recording of Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto. This partnership was continued when The Knights’ launched their first Brooklyn Home Season in 2016-17, in residence at BRIC. Each Home Season residency includes evening performances, family concerts, and engagement programs for local audiences, families, and public school students. The residencies allow The Knights to incubate their artistry and explorations at home, expanding connections within communities through music, before representing the best of Brooklyn around the globe. October saw the orchestra’s Opening Weekend, with a musical program featuring Master Peter’s Puppet Show, a multimedia concert with visual artist Kevork Mourad. December’s concerts celebrated a Brooklyn Schubertiade, showcasing local artists in an intimate salon evening of art, poetry, and music, where Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon read the world premiere of a new poem, set to music by The Knights. February’s program highlighted the world premiere of a new work by Andy Akiho, winner of the 2015 Rome Prize; and April showcased mainstays of classical canon alongside new Brooklyn composers, including works by Haydn, Mozart, and Gabriel Kahane.
The 2016-17 season saw the release of the celestial-themed album Azul on Warner Classics with longtime collaborator Yo-Yo Ma; an EP release with Gabriel Kahane of his song cycle Crane Palimpsest; a debut at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center as part of the inaugural “SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras;” and the New York premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s song cycle Unremembered, which The Knights also performed at Tennessee’s Big Ears Music Festival. They rounded out the season with a European tour, which took them to the Easter Festival at Aix-en-Provence for six performances with celebrated guest artists pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Bertrand Chamayou, and violinist Renaud Capuçon; along with three concerts across Germany, including one at the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg where the ensemble’s performance was lauded as one of the best in the new hall (Hamburg Abendetter).
Counted among the highlights from recent seasons are: a performance with Yo-Yo Ma at Caramoor; the recording of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto on master violinist Gil Shaham’s Grammy-nominated 2016 release, 1930’s Violin Concertos, Vol. 2, as well as a North American tour with Shaham; residencies at Dartmouth, Penn State and Washington DC’s Dumbarton Oaks; and a performance in the NY PHIL BIENNIAL along with the San Francisco Girls Chorus (led by composer Lisa Bielawa) and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which featured world premieres by Rome Prize-winner Bielawa, Pulitzer Prize-winner Aaron Jay Kernis, and Knights violinist and co-founder Colin Jacobsen. The ensemble made its Carnegie Hall debut in the New York premiere of the Steven Stucky/Jeremy Denk opera The Classical Style, and has toured the U.S. with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, and Europe with soprano Dawn Upshaw. In recent years The Knights have also collaborated with Itzhak Perlman, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Joshua Redman, Silk Road virtuoso Siamak Aghaei, and pipa virtuoso Wu Man. Recordings include 2015’s “instinctive and appealing” (The Times, UK) the ground beneath our feet on Warner Classics, featuring the ensemble’s first original group composition; an all-Beethoven disc on Sony Classical (their third project with the label); and 2012’s “smartly programmed” (NPR) A Second of Silence for Ancalagon.
The Knights’ roster boasts remarkably diverse talents, including composers, arrangers, singer-songwriters, and improvisers, who bring a range of cultural influences to the group, from jazz and klezmer to pop and indie rock music. The unique camaraderie within the group retains the intimacy and spontaneity of chamber music in performance.
The Knights are proud to be known as “one of Brooklyn’s sterling cultural products…known far beyond the borough for their relaxed virtuosity and expansive repertory” (The New Yorker). The unique camaraderie within the group retains the intimacy and spontaneity of chamber music in performance. Through the palatable joy and friendship in their music-making, each musician strives to include new and familiar audiences to experience this important artform.