Monday on the NewsHour: Chris Thile Makes Plucky Move From Bluegrass to Bach

BY Mary Jo Brooks  August 5, 2013 at 5:29 PM EDT

Musician Chris Thile performed for the PBS NewsHour at the Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan. Here he plays the final movement of Bach Sonata #1 in G-minor.

Chris Thile is a musician consumed with restless passion and energy. At age two he told his parents he wanted to play the mandolin. At eight he formed the band Nickel Creek and by 13, he had recorded two albums.

First known for playing bluegrass, he has become famous for crossing and mixing genres. His current band, Punch Brothers, has expanded the genre well beyond traditional tunes. Thile has also joined forces with other musicians, including celebrated jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, as well as classical cellist Yo Yo Ma in a recording called “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” which won a Grammy earlier this year for Best Folk Album.

Monday on the PBS NewsHour, Thile explains to Jeffrey Brown why he despises musical boundaries. “They’re just not helpful. If you sit down and say to yourself you want to write a bluegrass song, instantly you’re limiting yourself.”

When the MacArthur Foundation awarded Thile a so-called “genius grant” in 2012, the organization cited his creation of a “distinctly American canon for the mandolin and a new musical aesthetic for performers and audiences alike.”

Now he has turned his attention to Johann Sebastian Bach, whom Thile calls the greatest musician who ever lived. Nonesuch Records will release his recording of solo mandolin sonatas and partitas in August.