The College of Arts and Architecture

Sheep Island Ensemble

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Thursday, September 3, 2015 - 8:00pm
Esber Recital Hall - University Park, PA

Free Admission

The 18-piece Sheep Island Ensemble presents a guest recital titled "Bass Battles," featuring concerti by Dragonetti, Speger, and two world premieres of music written for bass by Sheep Island Ensemble conductor James Blachly and ensemble member Doug Balliett. Soloists are Doug Balliett and Penn State faculty member Rob Nairn.


Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra in D Major ♦ Domenico Dragonetti

Concerto for Contrabasso in B Minor ♦ Johann Matthias Sperger  

Duo for Two Double Basses ♦ James Blachly (world premiere)

The Four Seasons of New York: Concerto for Solo Bass and Orchestra ♦ Doug Balliett (world premiere)

From a small concert in 2009, the Sheep Island Ensemble has grown to include a vibrant partnership between patrons, concert-goers, and performers, and has established itself as a vital part of the New York City musical community. The group takes its name from a tiny island in the Gulf of Maine where there is no running water or electricity, and where time stands still in the experience of deep natural beauty and the gentle light of the Aladdin lamp. It is the intention of the ensemble to perpetuate a similar experience of serenity, beauty, and strength through its musical presentations.

The ensemble's mission statement is "great music brings people together." The ensemble takes as its guiding principle that listening live to great music is an essential, vital, thrilling, unbelievably beautiful, miraculous, unbounded, deep, rich, profound, stunning, witty, funny, petulant, rude, insightful, counter-intuitive, intuitive, problematic, fascinating, and thought-provoking experience.

Every concert is built around the listener, and concerts are as appealing for the first-time concertgoer as to the seasoned veteran, as fun for the musicians as for the audience. James BachlyOften, concerts bring performers and audience in close proximity, and parties have been known to be irresistibly appealing.

The ensemble is envisioned by conductor and composer James Blachly, and realized by a virtuosic assemblage of musicians that varies depending upon what fascinating program they are presenting. Ever-present is the involvement of something raw, something classical or well-known or more traditional, and something brand new.  Concerts have included (or will include) Bulgarian folk musicians, Bartok, Haydn and contemporary responses; ancient drinking songs, medieval motets, and new choral works based on the same; and Scottish folk songs in a variety of guises.

A native of New York City, composer-conductor James Blachly has been recognized by Chamber Music America as “vigorous and assured” for his first string quartet, and praised by the New York Times for his “thoughtful conception” of Mahler 4.  He is particularly at home writing for strings and the voice.

In 2008, James founded the Sheep Island Ensemble as a way of celebrating rich musical partnerships. The versatile ensemble gave its inaugural concert in January, 2009 in a concert of nine original compositions, including three world premieres. In Since then, the group has presented Mahler’s first, fourth and fifth Symphony in benefit concerts for children in New Orleans, given chamber concerts, held "loft parties," which bring an orchestra into (large) NY living rooms, and sung in Lower East Side community gardens.

Committed to the belief that all children deserve access to great music, James has dedicated more than a decade to music education. As a Teaching Artist with the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center Institute and the Little Orchestra Society, James worked with children in all five boroughs of New York City and the Tri-State area. In 2007, Mr. Blachly was invited to implement the Zukunft@BPhil’s Rite of Spring project in partnership with Carnegie Hall; he also worked on the Bernstein Mass project two years later. In 2008, he was invited by Ensemble ACJW to conduct an original work at Zankel Hall. With the New York Philharmonic, he has worked with more than 150 Very Young Composers, including ten-year-olds who wrote for the full symphony orchestra. 

James was named the 2014-15 Zander Fellow. In this role, he assists celebrated conductor and speaker Benjamin Zander with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. This prestigious position enables him to gain valuable experience not only with a conducting assistantship, but with a broader vision of the role of music in society that Mr. Zander demonstrates.