Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

Punch Brothers

Formed in 2006, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile are already playing to sold-out crowds around the world. Composed of five young and fiercely talented musicians—Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Noam Pikelny (banjo), and Paul Kowert (bass)—the band has captured the attention of music lovers across genres. As the San Francisco Chronicle asks, “Why didn’t someone think about mixing bluegrass, jazz and classical music together sooner? Chris Thile…is doing it with his new outfit, Punch Brothers, and the result is totally mind-blowing.” The group’s first album, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, received a Grammy® Award nomination, and the band’s 2007 Nonesuch Records debut _Punch_—which features Thile’s ambitious four-movement chamber suite, _The Blind Leaving the Blind_—has received tremendous critical acclaim. The band debuted the piece in March 2007 at a sold-out performance at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall as part of composer John Adams’ In Your Ear festival.

The resumes of the members of Punch Brothers—whose name is taken from the Mark Twain short story, _Punch, Brothers, Punch!_—are formidable. Widely regarded as one of the most interesting and inventive musicians of his generation, Chris Thile has changed the mandolin forever, elevating it from its origins as a relatively simple folk and bluegrass instrument to the sophistication and brilliance of the finest jazz improvisation and classical performance. For more than 15 years, Thile played in the wildly popular band Nickel Creek, with whom he released three albums for a combined two million records sold, was awarded a Grammy® in 2002, and traveled the world on sold-out concert tours. As a soloist, he has released four albums, on which he conquered a dizzying range of instruments, songwriting challenges and musical styles. Thile has also performed and recorded extensively as a duo with double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer (with whom he released an album titled Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile and toured the world in the fall of 2008) and with fellow eminent mandolinist Mike Marshall. In April 2007, Meyer and pianist Emanuel Ax commissioned Thile to write a piece for double bass and piano, which they performed on a tour including the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville. Additionally, Thile has collaborated with a pantheon of bluegrass innovators including Bela Fleck, Dolly Parton, the Dixie Chicks, Jerry Douglas, and Sam Bush.

Gabe Witcher began his musical training at age five, learning classical violin and bluegrass fiddle simultaneously. By age six he was performing professionally with his father in the bluegrass band The Witcher Brothers; over the next decade, he gained renown as both a member of that group and as a multiple winner on the California competition circuit. In 1994, Witcher was recruited by veteran musician Herb Pedersen to fill the shoes of three-time national fiddle champion Byron Berline in the group The Laurel Canyon Ramblers. By age 17, Witcher was recording for heavyweights such as Randy Newman, Bernie Taupin, and producer Don Was. He has since contributed to more than 300 records and countless movie and television scores, including 2006 Oscar® winner Brokeback Mountain. Over the last five years, he has solidified his place at the forefront of the progressive acoustic music scene by playing with 12-time Grammy® winner Jerry Douglas.

Although initially drawn to the electric guitar, by his mid-teens Chris Eldridge had developed a deep love for acoustic music, thanks in part to his father, a banjo player and founding member of the seminal bluegrass group The Seldom Scene. Eldridge later gained in-depth exposure to a variety of different musical styles while studying at Oberlin Conservatory, where he earned a degree in Music Performance in 2004. During his time at Oberlin, Eldridge studied with legendary guitarist Tony Rice. Before joining Punch Brothers, he was a founding member of the critically acclaimed bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters.

Noam Pikelny hails from Chicago, IL, where he spent his youth in joint custody between Wrigley Field and the Old Town School of Folk Music. During high school, he played all over Illinois and Indiana with several traditional bluegrass bands, who occasionally required him to wear a uniform. He studied music at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, before loading up the truck and moving to Boulder. Colorado, that is. In 2002, he became the principal banjoist with the award-winning Colorado ensemble, Leftover Salmon. His debut solo record, In the Maze, was released on Compass Records, and though it did not have much success on the charts, it made a splash in the world of postmodern progressive three-finger style five-string banjo. He relocated to Nashville, TN in 2006 to play with New Grass Revival bassist and vocalist John Cowan. He starting performing and recording with mandolinist, fellow Cubs fan and biggest hero, Chris Thile, in the fall of 2005. Pikelny relocated to Brooklyn, NY in the spring of 2008.

Paul Kowert is from Madison, WI and recently graduated from The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. As a classical musician, Kowert has performed with various orchestras as a soloist and as a section member, most recently playing in the Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland in the summer of 2008. He was one of the performers at Edgar Meyer’s Carnegie Hall workshop in 2006, and since then has appeared in concert with Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings, Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, Alex and Tatiana Hargreaves, Futureman’s Black Mozart Ensemble, Jordan Tice, Brittany Haas and Jeremy Kittel. Kowert can be heard as a member of the “Big Trio” with mandolinist Mike Marshall and violinist Alex Hargreaves, a group that will soon release their first album. Kowert has just joined Punch Brothers and is relocating to Brooklyn, NY.

Punch Brothers

photo Cassandra Jenkins

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