BY TOM NETHERLAND SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER
Bluegrass and classical music paired may seem as appetizing as a bowlful of Alpo and Ex-Lax.
Ah, but just listen.
The Kontras Quartet will present the world premiere of The Roan Mountain Suite on Oct. 15 at the Paramount in Bristol. Open wide the gates of perception. Then lend an ear.
“Judy Murray commissioned this. I’m so glad she did,” said Jens Kruger, co-founder of and banjoist in The Kruger Brothers. “She approached me to write a concerto. For me, it was an amazing journey.”
The Kruger Brothers’ and the Kontras Quartet performance doubles as the 50th Anniversary Gala to celebrate the initial meeting to conserve the Highlands of Roan. Of note, Roan Mountain straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina border. Murray’s late husband, Stanley Murray, led a citizens group in 1966 intent upon the conservation of the Roan Mountain Massif.
“You open your heart to emotions that are very much shared,” Kruger said. “It’s amazing how people feel the same about Roan Mountain. Love? That’s exactly what it did to me.”
Like a rainbow swathed across the matte black of darkness, The Kruger Brothers’ delivery of The Roan Mountain Suite heralds revelation.
“Bristol, we haven’t played there very much, but it’s a great theater there,” Kruger said. “It’s a special evening. There’s only one world premiere.”
It’s a world premiere led by seeming misfits. Brothers Jens and Uwe Kruger hail from Switzerland. The Kronos Quartet, a string ensemble, call San Francisco home. Now, that’s a might far from Bill Monroe’s blue moon of bluegrass Kentucky and Tennessee. And yet they’ll meet in the Birthplace of Country Music and play neither bluegrass nor country.
“No, it’s not bluegrass,” Kruger said. “It’s played on bluegrass instruments — banjo, guitar, and bass. We’re playing with a string quartet. It’s real American music. It’s new American classical music.”
Bluegrass and classical met as infrequent lovers long ago. Monroe even flirted with it once in the 1970s. It’s an affair that continues atop Roan Mountain from compositional chops of Jens Kruger.
“It’s so beautiful,” Kruger said. “When you’re on Roan Mountain, it’s a paradise. You see life.”
Hear the splendor of Roan Mountain via the life of seven songs with Kruger’s Roan Mountain Suite. Paintings set to music, hear the canvas come alive during its premiere in Bristol.
“It’s seven pictures,” Kruger said. “Everyone has a different picture. For people in the audience there are two pictures each — the one inside them and the one on stage.”
In other words, the suite’s seven songs can move each person in the audience in entirely different ways. For instance, if 700 people see the show, then a possible 700 pictures can emerge for each of the seven songs.
“Altogether, it’s about 50 minutes of music,” Kruger said. “We also have three songs that are not a part of the suite. One is about a raven. The raven is a messenger and he talks about himself. One is about a poet who lives at the Cloudland Hotel.”
An immersive experience awaits. Exploration and innovation met long ago in the music of The Kruger Brothers. In Roan Mountain Suite, the pairing rises once again to the fore.
“It’s a challenge to bring these instruments together and make them sound as one,” Kruger said.
Classify it as music made for the dreamers in us all.
“That’s right,” Kruger said. “I’m just happy if people come and get something out of the show.”