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The Knights, Mandolinist Avi Avital, Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh to Play at UCSB

Avi Avital Click to view larger
Avi Avital (Harald Hoffmann)

UCSB Arts & Lectures will present The Knights with mandolinist Avi Avital and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh performing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at UCSB Campbell Hall.


Avital, the trailblazing Israeli mandolin virtuoso, and Azmeh, the soulful Syrian clarinetist/composer, team up with The Knights, described by The New Yorker as “one of Brooklyn’s sterling cultural products.”

The Knights’ performances encompass the orchestra’s roots in the classical tradition while displaying their passion for artistic discovery.

Arts & Lectures has co-commissioned a triple concerto for clarinet, mandolin and violin, included in a program that crosses into the worlds of Middle Eastern, Balkan, klezmer and jazz music.

The Knights are a collective of adventurous musicians, dedicated to transforming the orchestral experience and eliminating barriers between audiences and music.

Driven by a 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 Knights bring classical music to life in a way that surprises and inspires new and longtime listeners.
Since their inception in New York City in the early 2000s, The Knights have challenged assumptions about orchestral music.

The ensemble grew out of informal chamber music readings at the home of brothers Eric and Colin Jacobsen, now the group’s artistic directors, and was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2007.

The 36 members of The Knights are graduates of the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music and other leading music schools and conservatories.

They are accomplished soloists, orchestral players and chamber musicians as well as composers, singer-songwriters and improvisers who bring a range of cultural influences to the group.
The Knights’ achievements include a 2017 Grammy Award nomination for a recording with violinist Gil Shaham; a performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater as part of the New York Philharmonic Biennial; and a debut at Carnegie Hall in the New York premiere of Steven Stucky and Jeremy Denk’s opera The Classical Style.

Also, a U.S. tour with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck; a European tour with soprano Dawn Upshaw, including the group’s debut at Vienna’s Musikverein; and a debut at the Kennedy Center, as part of the inaugural SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras.

The Knights have collaborated and toured with world-renowned musicians including Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Lise de la Salle, Joshua Redman, Silk Road virtuoso Siamak Aghaei and pipa virtuoso Wu Man.

Their most recent album, Azul, featured the world premiere recording of Osvaldo Golijov’s work "Azul" with soloist Yo-Yo Ma.

Avital is the first mandolin soloist to be nominated for a classical Grammy Award. Passionate and “explosively charismatic” (The New York Times) in live performance, he is a driving force behind the reinvigoration of the mandolin repertory.

Some 90 contemporary compositions, 15 of them concertos, have been written for him, while his reimaginings of music for other instruments include arrangements heard on his 2015 ECHO Klassik Award-winning Deutsche Grammophon recording, Vivaldi.

Avital’s unprecedented Grammy nomination honored his recording of Avner Dorman’s "Mandolin Concerto," a work he commissioned in 2006, with New York’s Metropolis Ensemble under Andrew Cyr.

As the first mandolin soloist to become an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, he has made three recordings for the label, including:

Vivaldi, a 2012 album featuring his own Bach concerto transcriptions; and Between Worlds in 2014, a cross-generic chamber collection exploring the nexus between classical and traditional music.

Avital has partnered leading artists in a variety of genres, including Dawn Upshaw, Andreas Scholl, Juan Diego Flórez, Giora Feidman, Ray Chen, David Greilsammer, and the Enso and Danish String Quartets, as well as a host of international orchestras.

The winner of the first-prize Doris and Mori Arkin Award at Israel’s prestigious Aviv Competitions in 2007, Avital is the first mandolinist in the history of the competition to be so honored.
Azmeh is hailed as a “virtuoso” and “intensely soulful” by The New York Times. His distinctive sound cuts across a variety of musical genres.

Born in Damascus, Syria, Azmeh was the first Arab to win the premier prize at the 1997 Nicolai Rubinstein International Competition in Moscow.

He is a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School, as a student of Charles Neidich, of the Damascus High Institute of Music, where he studied with Shukry Sahwki, Nicolay Viovanof and Anatoly Moratof.

He earned his doctorate in music from the City University of New York in 2013. He is a graduate as well of Damascus University’s School of Electrical Engineering.

Azmeh has appeared worldwide as a soloist, composer and improviser. Notable appearances include:

Opera Bastille, Tchaikovsky Grand Hall, Carnegie Hall, the U.N. General Assembly, Royal Albert Hall, Teatro Colon, der Philharmonie, the Library of Congress, Kennedy Center, the Mozarteum and the Damascus Opera House.

Azmeh’s compositions include several solo, orchestra and chamber music works as well as pieces for film, live illustration and electronics.

His discography comprises three albums with his ensemble HEWAR, several soundtracks for film and dance, a duo album with pianist Dinuk Wijeratne and a recent album with his New York Arabic/Jazz quartet.

He serves as artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Music Ensemble, with whom he released an album of new contemporary Syrian chamber music written especially for the ensemble by various composers.

Tickets are $25-$40 for the general public; $19 for UCSB students with valid student ID. For tickets and more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures, 893-3535 or visit

— Caitlin O'Hara for UCSB Arts & Lectures.


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