A Magical Experience - The Knights, Andy Akiho, Andre White and Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra make Much Music at the House of BRIC

by When Steel Talks

© 2017 -  All Rights Reserved.

  Bookmark and Share

In 1949, Rudy King aka ‘Rock’ and ‘Rudolph Carter’ - (to those who knew him as a young boy/man in his native Trinidad) came to America, bringing with him the knowledge of manufacturing and playing the instrument now known worldwide as the Steelpan. Soon after the steel orchestras would follow from Harlem to Brooklyn and establish themselves firmly as the orchestras of the people playing for the Brooklyn community. And within a few years later, with the introduction of New York Panorama 100-player steel orchestras, performing rich musical content became the norm. The colorful history and musical tradition of the great Brooklyn steel orchestras continue to today as a cultural and spiritual uplifting, awaking and “Liberation” for the community.

In Pictures

Andy Akiho on steelpan
Andy Akiho on steelpan

Recently while a significant portion of the global steelpan community was fully engaged with the happenings and grand performances of Trinidad and Tobago’s national Panorama competition—the greatest percussion event on earth and Super-Bowl of Pan—New Yorkers were treated to the artistic brilliance of two of the finest young composers/arrangers gracing the steelpan music art form today. When Steel Talks (WST) witnessed Andy Akiho and Andre White showcase and perform some of their musical genius live  in collaboration with The Knights at BRIC’s Media House in downtown Brooklyn, New York.

Septet for percussion, piano, strings and steel pan with Andy Akiho on Steelpan
Septet for percussion, piano, strings and steel pan - with Andy Akiho on Steelpan

It was a night of “firsts.” Andy Akiho debuted his “Septet for percussion, piano, strings and steel pan” and the The Knights performed for the first time ever with a steel orchestra (Pan Evolution with their musical director Andre White). It has been many, many moons since WST first noticed the Pan Halos floating above the heads of some special, gifted and talented youths - Andy and Andre of course being two of them. It is indeed awesome to see many of these same talents all over the world crossing paths as young adults and uplifting the global community with their music.

Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra with Andre White performs at BRIC
Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra with Andre White performs at BRIC

The Knights are resident artists at BRIC (Brooklyn Information & Culture) which is dedicated to showcasing and supporting the rich music diversity and music culture of New York.

The Knights at BRIC
The Knights at BRIC

The Knights are indeed an audacious group of musicians who are committed to collaborative experiences that open new frontiers and expose the audience to new musical ideas, colors and concepts. Led by Artistic Directors and brothers Colin and Eric Jacobsen, the Knights indeed struck platinum when they brought together the works of Andy Akiho, and Andre White with Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra (PESO) to perform with the Knights. The works of Andy are always challenging the expected norm with variations on rhythms, percussive voicing and melodic content. We’re talking big-time storytelling here with a massive arsenal.

Andre White
Andre White

And in a similar vein Andre—while normally using the traditional complement of the family of instruments within the conventional steel orchestra—is equally adept at sharing stories, often with improvisation, sans unnecessary theatrics, or embellishments. In a relatively short period Andre has mastered the art of creating entertainment, education, and expanding and preserving the culture through his music. When world-renowned Master arranger Clive Bradley years ago said, “....My main concern was setting this thing forward as an example of what can be done with this kind of music, what changes can be made, and what kind of music can be acceptable...,” he was unknowingly speaking of what, decades later, the likes of Andre White would become.

Andy Akiho and Andre White
Andy Akiho and Andre White

Both Andre White and Andy Akiho are superb storytellers through their music. This new era of Pan musicians—like Andre White, Andy Akiho, Jonathan Scales, Leon “Foster” Thomas, Khan Cordice and Duvone Stewart to name a few—is part of that elite consortium which is meeting the challenge of taking Pan and the art form places where it has not gone before. They have indeed expanded the conversation. By the enthusiastic response to the performances - which played to a packed house on this night - clearly The Knights were successful in accomplishing their mission “transforming the orchestral experience and eliminating barriers between audience and music.”

   The Knights, Andy Akiho and Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra with Andre White

So what happens when the awesome musicianship of the Knights combines forces with these stalwart performing artists and composers/arrangers? The audience is treated to a magical experience that will reverberate with them for a lifetime. And as Colin Jacobsen said in his closing remarks it was indeed a “Lovely Day.”

The Knights
Colin Jacobsen and Eric Jacobsen, Artistic Directors
Andy Akiho, steel pan
Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra
I ❤ Steel Pan
With a World Premiere by Rome Prize-winner, composer, and steel pan performer, Andy Akiho,
Brooklyn’s Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra

Colin Jacobsen, violin   Guillaume Pirard, violin   Miranda Sielaff, viola

 Jane Cords-O’Hara, cello   Joseph Bongiorno, bass
 Samuel Budish, percussion   Steven Beck, piano

the rAy’s end
ANDY AKIHO (b.1979)
Varied Trio
  1. Gendllng
  2. Bowl Bells
  3. Elegy
  4. Rondeau, in honor of Fragonard
  5. Dance

LOU HARRISON (1917-2003)
Opus Pocish
(From Opus Pocus and Okonkole Y Tromba by Jaco Pastorius)

arr. SHAWN CONLEY (b. 1983)
Passacalio, Op. 22 No. 25
BIAGIO MARINI (1594—1663)
Septet for percussion, piano, strings and steel pan     

Pan Evolution
Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra

(est. 2015)
musical director - ANDRE WHITE
ANDRE WHITE (b. 1990)
Like a Light
Snarky Puppy
Lovely Day
by Bill Withers & Skip Scarborough





The Knights are thrilled to welcome guests Andy Akiho and Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra to BRIC, our home in Brooklyn, for tonight’s program. In tonight’s valentine to the steel pan, we present the world premiere of Andy’s Septet for percussion, piano strings and steel pan, an extensive work pulsing with rhythmic intricacy and an inventive use of instrumentation. As we thought of what to play alongside it, we wanted to pursue two threads: Who were composers from the recent past in the classical world who also brought together percussion and strings for interesting timbral effect? With the proliferation of steel orchestras here in Brooklyn (most visible each year with the West Indian Day Carnival’s Panorama contest held at the Brooklyn Museum), could we also feature the instrument in a more traditional context?

To address the first question, the music of Lou Harrison immediately sprung to mind. Harrison, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year, took great delight in the percussion instruments of the world, particularly the Javanese gamelan, and would eventually build alongside his lifelong partner William Colvig an “American” gamelan which he used in numerous pieces. In his Varied Trio (1987) for piano, percussion and violin, the sound world, rhythmic cycles, and atmosphere of the gamelan are invoked within 5 short movements, all with very different timbraI palettes.

The history of the steel pan is one of the triumph of the human spirit over oppression, as its use in various festivals (including Canboulay and Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago) was frequently banned by British colonial authorities. It is also one of continual invention —the types of instruments, sizes of orchestras, and musical styles continually evolve. World-renowned player Andy Akiho, who has done arranging and playing for some of the huge bands that compete annually in Brooklyn and Trinidad, introduced us to Wayne Bernard and the Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra. We look forward to hearing them tonight on their own and to join them on 2 tunes arranged by Andre White.

Jaco Pastorius, the jazz fusion-era fretless electric bass wizard, ha a productive and extensive relationship with jazz steel pan player Othello Molineaux. The Knights’ own bassist Shawn Conley has created a fantasy based on the mash up of two tunes, Opus Pocus (which featured Molineaux) and Okonkole Y Trompa from Jaco’s self-titled 1976 album. We also have included Osvaldo Golijov’s atmospheric Mariel (1999) for cello and marimba here as a more meditative and lyrical look at the percussion-strings combo on today’s program.

Colin and Eric, The Knights  


Described as “mold-breaking,” “alert and alive,” “dramatic,” and “vital” by the New York Times, Andy Akiho is an eclectic composer and performer of contemporary classical music. Recent engagements include commissioned premieres by the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble ACJW; a performance with the LA Phil Green Umbrella Series; and three concerts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Akiho has been recognized with awards including the 2014-15 Luciano Berio Rome Prize, the 2015 Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund, a 2014 Fromm Foundation Commission from Harvard University, the 2014 American Composers Orchestra Underwood Emerging Composers Commission, a 2014 Chamber Music America (CMA) Grant with the Friction Quartet and Jenny Q Chai, a 2012 CMA Grant with Sybarite5, the 2012 Carlsbad Composer Competition Commission for the Calder Quartet, and the 2011 Finale & ensemble eighth blackbird National Composition Competition Grand Prize. Additionally, his compositions have been featured on PBS’s “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” and by organizations such as Bang on a Can, American Composers Forum, New Music USA, and Chamber Music Northwest.


Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra is a non-profit organization founded in November 2015. As the newbie on the New York pan scene, Pan Evolution (or “PESO” as it ¡s referred to by its players) has quickly become a powerhouse under the direction of their Board of Directors consisting of Matthew Bascombe (Chairman & Manager), Beverly Edinboro-Scott (Treasurer), Wilma Maynard (Secretary), Nekeisha Bernard (Recording Secretary), and Anne Aspilaire (Public Relations Officer). The band is captained by Wayne Bernard with Adrian Ramdoo as the vice captain and Andre White as the musical director/arranger. In only its first year, the band has played for NY PIX11 news station and a venues such as the Port Washington Golf Course and the Annual New York City Halloween Parade.

In September 2016, only in months into the band’s existence, PESO won second place at the New York Steel Band Competition, performing against many veteran steel bands in the community.

The band continues to use its platform to promote unity throughout culture and steel pan community. The band motto is “Together As One.”

The Knights and Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra


The Knights

The Knights are a collective of adventurous musicians, dedicated to transforming the orchestral experience and eliminating barriers between audiences and music. Driven by an open-minded spirit of camaraderie and exploration, they inspire listeners with vibrant programs that encompass their roots in the classical tradition and passion for artistic discovery. The orchestra has toured and recorded with renowned soloists including Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, Béla Fleck, and Gil Shaham, and have performed at Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, and the Vienna Musikverein.

Growing from a series of informal chamber music parties in friends’ living rooms, The Knights are led by Artistic Directors and brothers, Colin and Eric Jacobsen. The Knights are committed to creating unusual and adventurous partnerships across disciplines; they perform in traditional concert halls as well as parks, plazas, and bars, all in an effort to reach listeners of all backgrounds and invite them into their music-making. Since incorporating in 2007, the orchestra has toured consistently across the United States and Europe.

During the 2016-17, The Knights’ launched their first Home Season, in residence at the downtown Brooklyn art space BRIC, and through generous support by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Each residency includes evening performances, family concerts, and engagement programs for local audiences, families, and public school students. The residencies allow The Knights to incubate their artistry and explorations at home, expanding connections within communities through music, before representing the best of Brooklyn around the globe. Concerts included performances on February 11th and 12th, featuring a world premiere by Andy Akiho, winner of the 2015 Rome Prize, and a collaboration with Brooklyn’s award-winning Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra. April concerts showcased mainstays of classical canon alongside new Brooklyn composers, including works by Haydn, Mozart, and Gabriel Kahane.

In addition, Spring 2017 will see the release of The Knights’ new album featuring Yo-Yo Ma on works by Osvaldo Golijov, Dvorak, and Sufjan Stevens. On April 1, the orchestra debuted at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Knights travel to Europe for a residency in Aix-en- Provence, France, and performances throughout Germany including a concert at Hamburg’s brand-new Elbphilharmonie.

The Knights are proud to be known as “one of Brooklyn’s sterling cultural products…known far beyond the borough for their relaxed virtuosity and expansive repertory” (The New Yorker). The unique camaraderie within the group retains the intimacy and spontaneity of chamber music in performance. Through the palatable joy and friendship in their music-making, each musician strives to include new and familiar audiences to experience this important art form.


Colin Jacobsen
Colin Jacobsen

As the Washington Post observes, violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen is “one of the most interesting figures on the classical music scene.” A founding member of two game-changing, audience-expanding ensembles – the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and orchestra The Knights – he is also a touring member of Yo-Yo Ma’s venerated Silk Road Project and an Avery Fisher Career Grant-winning violinist. Jacobsen’s work as a composer developed as a natural outgrowth of his chamber and orchestral collaborations. Jointly inspired by encounters with leading exponents of non-western traditions and by his own classical heritage, his most recent compositions for Brooklyn Rider include “Three Miniatures” – “vivacious, deftly drawn sketches” (New York Times) – which were written for the reopening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Islamic art galleries. Jacobsen collaborated with Iran’s Siamak Aghaei to write a Persian folk-inflected composition, “Ascending Bird,” which he performed as soloist with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, in a concert that was streamed live by millions of viewers worldwide. His work for dance and theater includes Chalk and Soot, a collaboration with Dance Heginbotham, and music for Compagnia de’ Colombari’s theatrical production of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.

Colin Jacobsen and Andy Akiho


Hailed by the New York Times as “an interpretive dynamo,” conductor and cellist Eric Jacobsen has built a reputation for engaging audiences with innovative and collaborative projects. Jacobsen is the founder and Artistic Director The Knights and a founding member of the genre-defying string quartet Brooklyn Rider.  As conductor of The Knights, Jacobsen has led the “consistently inventive, infectiously engaged indie ensemble” (New York Times) at New York venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Central Park, and at renowned international halls such as the Vienna Musikverein and Cologne Philharmonie.  In the 2015-16 season, Jacobsen celebrates his inaugural season as Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic and his second season as both Music Director of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony and Artistic Partner with the Northwest Sinfonietta. Also in demand as a guest conductor, Jacobsen has recently led the Camerata Bern, the Detroit Symphony, the Alabama Symphony, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, Deutsche Philharmonie Merck, and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble.

Leave a comment in the WST forum

When Steel Talks shirts
now available!
Order yours now!
When Steel Talks -- T Shirt