Béla Fleck Premieres Concerto for Banjo and Orchestra

Nashville Symphony

By Jerry Holthouse

It’s hard to believe that it all started with the Beverly Hillbillies, but that’s where Béla Fleck first heard his musical hero, Earl Scruggs, and fell in love with Bluegrass music and the banjo. Fleck has since taken the banjo more places both musically and physically than probably anyone on the planet. He’s been nominated in more Grammy categories than any other musician, and after last night’s premiere of his “Concerto for Banjo and Orchestra” with the Grammy winning Nashville Orchestra, he’ll probably up that record.

Fleck was dwarfed by the huge Orchestra but only visually, his vintage 1937 mahogany Gibson Mastertone banjo blended beautifully with the Orchestra and his long-time idol, Earl Scruggs, was in the audience to see it. The concerto was smartly placed between Aaron Copland’s famous Appalachian Spring and Tchaikovsky’s larger-than-life Fourth Symphony. “I’m so proud that I am playing it with a great orchestra which is the Nashville Symphony we’ve always had a good orchestra but I think were in a different echelon now.”

Fleck wrote every piece for every instrument, “one note at a time” which is a daunting task for a 35 minute performance. The banjo player did have a little help from a software program called Sibelius. “I would either play the part on my banjo or sing the melody into my phone and then figure out how to write it in banjo notation, then I could copy and paste it onto other instruments and it would turn it into the notation for that instrument. A lot of it was through trial and error.”

The performance was a feast for the ears and there’s no better place to see it than the beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Nashville.com highly recommends this show because it is truly the best of Nashville. You can still get tickets for two more shows tonight (9/23) and tomorrow (9/24) here.

Fleck is already scheduled to play with several Orchestras around the country and hopes to add to that list.