The Knights are a popular New York City-based chamber orchestra whose repertory is mainly classical but inclusive of many other genres, as well. They 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. Not only do they play a vast range of repertory, they have a programming committee drawn from the orchestra's members who vote on selections to be played. Democracy in repertory, however, isn't their only unusal characteristic: camraderie 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. Though the orchesta is normally chamber-sized, it has a membership of about 63 musicians. The Knights play in various New York City venues, including Carnegie Hall, Central Park (Naumburg Bandshell), Bargemusic, Brooklyn Lyceum, 92nd Street Y, Le Poisson Rouge, and many other locales. They have regularly toured the U.S., often appearing at major festivals, including the Ravinia, and have toured parts of Europe. The Knights have recorded for the Sony and Ancalagon labels.
The Knights were founded in New York City by brothers Eric and Colin Jacobsen. Eric serves as the orchestra's conductor, while Colin is rotating concertmaster, and the two 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.
From 2004 the Knights were asked to perform at such major concert venues as Bargemusic and at some of the leading New York music festivals. 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. In 2007 the Knights debuted at Carnegie Hall and also launched their first tour of Ireland. Their first recording appeared in 2009, a Sony CD entitled Experience: Live From New York. The disc featured cellist 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. They were 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.