When it comes to mountain-themed landscape music, there’s nobody better than the Kruger Brothers, and they’ve got the body of work to prove it. Following 2011’s “Appalachian Concerto” and 2013’s “Spirit of the Rockies,” the expatriate European group’s next major work is “Roan Mountain Suite” – which they’re scheduled to premiere next month in Bristol, Tenn.
But first, the Krugers will revisit the Rockies at next weekend’s Wide Open Bluegrass. After playing selections from “Appalachian Concerto” with Steve Martin at the first Raleigh World of Bluegrass in 2013, the Krugers will be onstage at Red Hat Amphitheater on Saturday to offer up “Spirit of the Rockies” with a chamber music orchestra of 15 musicians (double string quartet, flute, percussion, trombones, French horns and conductor).
“It seems that people who request music from me feel like I’m the guy who can turn landscape and scenery into music,” said banjo player Jens Kruger, calling from home in North Wilkesboro. “I guess it has a lot to do with my music being picturesque. It’s not very abstract and you can relate it to landscapes really well.”
“Roan Mountain Suite,” based on the Appalachian mountain that straddles the North Carolina/Tennessee border, has taken up most of Kruger’s compositional energy of late. For landscape compositions, his process involves visiting the location in question and studying its history and terrain.
‘Roan Mountain Suite,’ based on the Appalachian mountain that straddles the North Carolina/Tennessee border, has taken up most of Jens Kruger’s compositional energy of late.
“Just trying to get a feel for it,” Kruger said. “Before every composition, I fill a book with impressions, things that struck me the most. The process takes months, and I’ll add fragments of music to individual thought-out ideas.”
Some of Roan Mountain’s features that made their way into Kruger’s songs were its treeless high meadows, robust raven population and odd hotel. The hotel was situated on the border, with the rooms laid out in such a way that you could sleep with your feet in one state and your head in another.
“That hotel’s ballroom also had one side that could drink and the other side that couldn’t, with a police officer there to make sure,” Kruger said. “We wrote ‘Night at the Hotel’ about that. It’s great to discover all these little stories about a place.”
Despite the similar terrain, Kruger sees some key differences between “Roan Mountain Suite” and his initial crack at mountain music, “Appalachian Concerto.”
“‘Appalachian Concerto’ was about immigration, moving here from another place with our family and relating to other people who had done that as well,” Kruger said. “The perspective of ‘Roan Mountain Suite’ is from already being here. This one incorporates traditional American sounds more than the German, Italian, Russian and Jewish fragments that came together on ‘Appalachian Concerto.’ It has more hymn-like melodies and also sort of reverse-develops old-time music back into baroque music.
“But yes,” he concluded, “it is another thing about mountains, and I am from mountains. I do appreciate it. I grew up in landscapes like this, not cities. Rode to school on a horse, ran barefoot in the woods and jumped in every lake there was in the middle of the night. For me, mountains and the smell of pines, that’s something that lingers and I like staying in that world.”
What: Kruger Brothers and Symphony of the Mountains presenting “Spirit of the Rockies” as part of Wide Open Bluegrass. Also features Del McCoury Band, Steep Canyon Rangers and more.
When: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday. Kruger Brothers at 4:20 p.m.
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh