The Kruger Brothers

In 2014, The Kruger Brothers premiered their stunning new concerto, Lucid Dreamer, to a capacity crowd at IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass, presented by PNC. Brothers Jens and Uwe Kruger were born and raised in Europe, but they were so influenced by American music, particularly the music of North Carolina’s Doc Watson, that they moved to the U.S. in 2002 and now make their home in Wilkesboro. Along with bass player Joel Landsberg, a native of New York City who had an extensive musical upbringing in classical and jazz music, they formed a trio that has been playing professionally together for two decades. When you listen to the music of The Kruger Brothers, you can't help but be amazed by the sheer depth of their artistry. They draw from a rich cultural palette, seamlessly blending elements of folk, bluegrass, jazz and classical music into a sound of their own. Their virtuoso playing combined with their interactions with each other and with their audience makes every concert a unique experience. And their original music, composed by Jens Kruger (Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame inductee and 2013 recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass & Banjo Music), is unpretentious, cultivated, and delightfully fresh.

Since their formal introduction to American audiences in 1997, The Kruger Brothers’ remarkable discipline, creativity and their ability to infuse classical music into folk music has resulted in a unique sound that has made them a fixture within the world of acoustic music. The honesty of their writing has since become a hallmark of the trio’s work.

In their ever-expanding body of work – Jens Kruger (banjo and vocals), Uwe Kruger (guitar and lead vocals), and Joel Landsberg (bass and vocals) – The Kruger Brothers personify the spirit of exploration and innovation that forms the core of the American musical tradition. In addition to their regular concert schedule, The Kruger Brothers also perform their original classical pieces with select symphony orchestras and string quartets throughout the country.

Through their numerous CD releases, radio and television performances, lectures, and collaborative efforts, The Kruger Brothers’ powerful artistic statement continues to inspire and enlighten audiences and musicians around the world.

Brothers Jens and Uwe Kruger started singing and playing instruments at a very young age. Growing up in a family where music was an important part of life, they were exposed to a wide diversity of musical influences. The brothers were performing regularly by the time they were 11 and 12 years old, and they began their professional career in 1979. Jens’ and Uwe’s first public performances were as a duo, and in just a few years they were busking on the streets of cities throughout eastern and western Europe.

CBS Records contracted with Jens and Uwe when Jens was just 17 years old, and shortly thereafter, the Krugers hosted a radio show on SRG SSR, the Swiss Public broadcast group. Several years later, the brothers teamed up with bass player Joel Landsberg, a native of New York City who also had a very extensive musical upbringing in classical and jazz music (studying with jazz great Milt Hinton), thus forming a trio that has been playing professionally together since 1995. Together, they established the incomparable sound that The Kruger Brothers are known for today.

Jens has written and continues to write the music for all of The Kruger Brothers’ original tunes, and he began his “official” venture into the themes and forms of classical music in 2006 when he was commissioned to write "Music from the Spring" for banjo, guitar, bass, and full symphonic orchestra. Since then, he has received three commissions to write classical pieces that The Kruger Brothers have performed with various orchestral ensembles: "Appalachian Concerto" with string quartet; "Spirit of the Rockies" with a small orchestra, and most recently in 2013, "Lucid Dreamer," a chamber music piece written specifically for and commissioned by the Kontras Quartet that premiered in 2014 in Raleigh.

While Jens plays in a melodic style that has roots in bluegrass, his music is distinguished by long, melodic passages and a complex compositional foundation, often building on jazz or classical themes and techniques.

Uwe Kruger, lead vocalist and guitarist, has been playing music since early childhood. When they were very young, Uwe and younger brother Jens would place a guitar on the floor between them and play it together, one brother taking the upper three strings and the other the lower three. Uwe was introduced to American folk music through the brothers’ father, who would bring folk music records when he returned to Switzerland from business trips to the United States.

For more than 25 years, Uwe has been playing guitar and singing as a professional musician. Over the course of his career, Uwe has developed range and versatility – instrumentally and stylistically. Today, Uwe astonishes audiences with his blend of guitar-picking styles. His rich, resonant, and mellow baritone voice has an uplifting effect on all who hear him sing. Uwe has been influenced by a diversity of musicians, ranging from Doc Watson, Jerry Garcia, and Eric Clapton, to Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms. Watching and listening to Uwe’s unique style, a blend of flat-picking and finger picking, is a fascinating experience. Uwe loves playing “in the moment,” and his guitar improvisation during live performances has listeners sitting at the edge of their seats in excitement and anticipation.

One can only imagine the number and variety of musical influences – Broadway, classical, jazz, rhythm and blues – that surrounded Joel as he was growing up in New York City. Like Uwe and Jens, Joel began his musical career early in life and picked up the bass at the age of 12. Like many other musicians, Joel began learning music through classical training on the piano. After several years of piano lessons, he switched to the bass, and as he discovered his love for the instrument, Joel decided to devote all of his attention to playing the bass.

Destined to find Uwe and Jens, in 1989, Joel moved to Switzerland and began a successful career as a bassist with various country/rock and jazz groups based throughout Europe. It was during this time that he met Jens and Uwe and developed what would become a deeply rewarding musical alliance and friendship. In early 1995, Joel was initiated into the “brotherhood” and has been performing full time with the band ever since.

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In late 2010, the Kruger Brothers premiered the Appalachian Concerto, a concerto for banjo, bass, guitar, and string quartet. This concerto was commissioned by the Ashe County Arts Council and composed in the fall of 2010. A studio recording of Appalachian Concerto was released in May 2011. In 2015, they released the recorded version of Lucid Dreamer. 
 

Jens writes, "Lucid Dreamer is a musical interpretation of experiencing a waking state of reverie. The music is a delicate idea that gathers strength and takes flight, releasing the listener from the surly bonds of earth as it soars, dips and glides like a flock of birds. It is a journey that touches upon the dynamic created between the fragility of life and the boldness that it takes to live it.

“I think the new concerto is more musically complex than anything I’ve ever written," said Jens Kruger about the piece that took more than a year to write. “I don’t think it’s less accessible, but it has a lot more complex parts.”

Lucid Dreamer was a commission by the Kontras Quartet made possible by Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with general funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.

Lucid Dreamer was composed for banjo, guitar and bass with string quartet, resulting in a thirty-three minute work with seven movements.

In the relativity of life, Jens said, “My dreams were just as important in my memory as actual events.” In his dreams, he said, “I see endless beauty overshadowing the immediate. All my dreams have been filled with sounds and music.”

“It seems to me that all life is unfolding like a dream, swirling like dance in flight. For all things that have a beginning, I assume they must also have an end. I have a strong sense that dreams don’t need a beginning.”

 

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