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Is 2014 The Year of the Mandolin in Classical Music?

Rating: 5 votes, 5.00 average.
We howled with approval when UK-based author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht observed on his popular blog that 2014 could be The Year of the Mandolin in classical music.

inline imageHe might be onto something, and he's clearly no stranger to the instrument.

"Classical music needs new voices. In 2014, the big noise could well be the mandolin," he wrote, posting links to music videos featuring Avi Avital and Chris Thile.

Haven't heard of Lebrecht? Allow us to introduce him, gleaned in part from his web site:

Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries. Add to this an impressive 12 books about the music industry he's authored.

In following his blog we were surprised to read Chris Thile's Bach: Sonatas & Partitas 1 recording was #2 in U.S. Classical sales according to Nielsen Ratings for the first week in September. That gave us pause: had another classical mandolin recording ever hit the Top 10?

Clearly, Avital and Thile are on his radar. Others? We don't know, but Avital's upcoming Between Worlds is clearly in his sights and he has more than a cursory knowledge of the talented Israeli mandolinist. He's a fan.

That a single prominent industry music writer outside of the microscopic mandolin universe has observed this is not in itself an earth shattering event. It's simply recognition of a trend that's been building for a long time. Classical musicians choosing to play the mandolin are getting a bit more respect and attention than in the past. For the rest of us its become more accepted, maybe mildly trendy to wade into some of the very deep waters that make up classical music (particularly Bach in our own experience). This is a very good thing.

Young up-and-coming players have taken note. The discipline of serious time studying classical material pays dividends in chops and ideas. There's a growing number of books, DVDs, even camps, dedicated to classical mandolin, and as we predicted in 2013, someone even came out with a version of the Bach Sonatas & Partitas in tablature, clearly to the dismay of a few.

Kudos to those leading the way, in no particular order: Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, Avi Avital, Modern Mandolin Quartet, Joe Brent, Chris Acquavella, Caterina Lichtenberg, Carlo Aonzo, Alon Sariel, Jacob Reuven, Gertrud Weyhofen, Marilynn Mair, Evan Marshall. The dearly departed Alison Stephens and Norman Levine. Even David Grisman played a small role and had mandolinists clamoring to learn the classical snippet he inserted into an early Dawg recording. We've surely left out many others equally talented, particularly in mandolin rich countries like Germany, Italy and Japan.

So is 2014 the Year of the Mandolin in classical music as Lebrecht noted? We wouldn't say for sure but it's fun to embrace the attention. One thing is for certain: between Avi's new project coming out in a few weeks, a brand new collection of Bach Inventions by Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg and a new solo recording also from Caterina, it's an argument that has merit. As always, Thile is a wildcard. There's just no telling what he might come up with in 2014.

The year already looks big on day one.

We can't wait.

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Updated Dec-22-2014 at 10:25am by Scott Tichenor (correcting some broken links)

General Mandolin Comments


  1. bratsche's Avatar
    It's ironic that (in addition to this blog) Norman Lebrecht has neglected to mention his own esteemed countryman Simon Mayor, who also has released a great looking new album just 4 days into the new year!

  2. Scott Tichenor's Avatar
    Simon Mayor's new album isn't a classical recording which is Lebrecht's main interest and expertise, and Simon isn't a classical musician, but he is a remarkable talent. It's a general mandolin recording with a few cuts from the classical genre. Plus, the album isn't even out, but it's still doubtful Norman will hear about it because Simon doesn't have a team of publicity people like Thile and he isn't active in any social media. Hard to get noticed these days if you don't promote yourself. Even Avi somehow maintains someone doing professional grade publicity videos for him, likely from Deutsche Grammophon. Apples and oranges. Not ironic at all. If I have anything to do with it he'll be constantly reminded of his statement when the Marshall/Lichtenberg recording comes out along with others that might interest him.
  3. BradKlein's Avatar
    Nice post, Scott!