The Art of Collaboration

This post is by Danny Parisi, a Sophomore English major. 

Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile

Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile photo by Dylan Singleton

In a short introduction before Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau’s performance on Friday night at the Clarice Smith Center, Director of Artistic Initiatives Paul Brohan emphasized the Center’s dedication to the art of collaboration. Taking artists with their own styles and ideas and putting them together to explore new artistic grounds is an important part of the Center’s mission. Luckily for us, when artists as talented and passionate as these two come together, the result can be magic.

Chris Thile, well-known mandolinist, and Brad Mehldau, acclaimed jazz pianist, could not be more different when it comes to stage presence. Mehldau sat stoic and quiet, face half-turned away from the audience, eyes closed as his fingers danced along the keys. Thile’s body jerked, and his face contorted as his expression ranged from intense concentration to maniacal laughter to pensive longing. The variance in their personalities showed in their interactions with the audience as well. During applauses, Mehldau sat and nodded appreciatively at the audience; Thile flashed a smile. In speaking, Mehldau was direct and talked about the artists whose music they performed while Thile was quick to make jokes and keep the audience laughing.

Mehldau and Thile are an odd couple surely, but what the two do share is a passion for music that defies expectations and a technical mastery of their respective instruments elevating them both to virtuoso levels of proficiency. Trading off blistering improvised solos on a foot-stomping rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Look Twice Its Alright” before transitioning to a hauntingly spare version of Randy Newman’s terrifying “In Germany Before the War,” the duo’s conflicting presences worked marvelously together.

Personality, stage presence, style; these can all differ from artist to artist. But what most artists share is the passion for their craft and the joy they receive from perfecting it. With that common thread, even the oddest musical couple can make the most beautiful music.