• Founded 1990
Often appears with
The Knights are a popular New York City-based chamber orchestra whose repertory is mainly classical but inclusive of many other genres, as well. The group may well offer a concert of Mozart, Shostakovich, and atonal works, then turn to jazz or arrangements of music by Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. Their eclectic tastes owe something to their membership, which includes composers, arrangers, singers, and improvisers from diverse backgrounds eager to accommodate a range of music styles.
The Knights were founded in New York City by brothers Eric and Colin Jacobsen. Eric serves as the orchestra's conductor, while Colin is the rotating concertmaster, and the brothers share duties as co-artistic directors. The ensemble's roots date back to the 1990s when chamber groups performed concerts at the home of the brothers. From there, the ensemble evolved into an orchestra, and by 2002, had developed a schedule of concerts. Though the orchestra is normally chamber-sized, it has a larger membership of musicians. The orchestra has a programming committee drawn from the orchestra's members who vote on selections to be played. Democracy in repertory, however, isn't their only unusual characteristic: camaraderie among the orchestra's players and their high level of musicianship are so well known and appreciated that cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who often appears as soloist with the Knights, happily joins the cello section for concerts when his schedule permits.
Despite the crowded New York artistic scene, the Knights gradually drew positive notice and expanded their concert schedule to include tours of the U.S. and abroad. From 2004, the Knights were asked to perform at major concert venues and music festivals in New York, including Carnegie Hall, Central Park (Naumburg Bandshell), Bargemusic, Brooklyn Lyceum, 92nd Street Y, and Le Poisson Rouge. In 2007, the Knights debuted at Carnegie Hall and also launched their first tour of Ireland. Their first recording appeared in 2009, a Sony release entitled Experience: Live from New York. The disc featured cellist Jan Vogler in works by Shostakovich, Lev Zhurbin, and Jimi Hendrix via an arrangement of Machine Gun for cello and orchestra. 2009 was also the year the Knights made their first tour of Europe, which included concerts at the Dresden Music Festival with soprano Dawn Upshaw. The orchestra returned to Germany in 2010 and gave acclaimed performances in Berlin, Bonn, and Dresden. The group was also drawing positive notice at home: their August 2010 concerts at Central Park's Naumburg Bandshell, which featured music by Haydn, Beethoven, Debussy, and Shostakovich, drew large audiences and high praise from local critics. The Knights also drew acclaim for their performances at the 2011 Ravinia Festival in music by Schubert and Liszt.
The Knights have recorded for several labels, including Sony, Ancalagon, Warner Classics, and Supertrain. In 2017, the Knights joined Gil Shaham for the second volume of his 1930s Violin Concertos series, which earned a Grammy nomination. In 2019, with the San Francisco Girls and Trinity Youth Choruses, the Knights released the album My Outstretched Hand.