Nashville Mandolin Ensemble
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Nashville Mandolin Ensemble


Band Country Bluegrass


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Versatility of Mandolin Ensemble thrills audience


Ever since I resumed attending and started to review the artists who have appeared at the Hazleton Area High School auditorium, there hasn’t been a show that failed to live up to the high standards set by its predecessors.

Add Nashville Mandolin Ensemble to the list of entertainers that have brought to Hazleton different, thrilling and quality entertainment.

From the minute the lights came up and Scranton native Butch Baldassari and the other five members of the ensemble began their intricate and dazzling performance, the audience responded in appreciative fashion.

The show was both exciting and relaxing, a difficult combination to achieve.

I can’t recall the last time I heard a mandolin player (Baldassari) in person let alone a mandola player (Walter Carter) and a mandocello player (John Hedgecoth). The latter two instruments are larger versions of the mandolin with added features.

Joining them were Matt Combs (mandolin, violin and fiddle), Van Manakas (guitar) and David Spicher (bass).

The evening was a program of virtual continuous exciting music that displayed the versatility of all six artists. To present classical (first part of the show), bluegrass (second) and Beatles compositions (third) all on the same program requires marvelous versatility and that’s exactly what the audience got.

J.S. Bach, Cauciello and Tarrega compositions were among the classical offerings and bluegrass fans were in bluegrass heaven when Combs switched to a fiddle and led the ensemble through “Fiddle Tune Medley” and “Two Girls from Galax” and other bluegrass specials with Baldassari’s own “Jack Rabbit Trail” mixed in.

A soft approach to Beatles tunes, four of them by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, gave the audience an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the music that is often obscured when it is performed with overwhelming sound.

All six musicians were featured at various times during the fast-moving performance.

“We surprise our audiences every time we play,” Baldassari said recently. “People just revel in the sound of all these marvelous instruments and the tremendous variety of music we perform. Our repertoire includes Bill Monroe’s bluegrass, as well as the music of O’Caroan and Vivaldi.”

Among the patrons I briefly interviewed were Irene Watkins, Lou and Peg Matuella, Rose Marie Bereznak, Cathy Yedlock, Rosella Walker, Monica Barletta, Mary Ellen Ray, Roseann Damico, Dr. Geraldine Shepperson, Teresa Leshko, Vicki Mackin, Greg and Carol Matz and several others. All of them had the highest praise for the performers.

I told Baldassari I guessed that he was a graduate of Scranton Prep High School and he confirmed that he is. At the request of Lou Matuella, I asked him if he is of Tyrolean descent mentioning that Baldesari (different spelling, same pronunciation) is a common Tyrolean name in Hazleton. He said he is of Italian descent.

In addition to performing, Baldassari is a teacher, bandleader and adjunct professor of mandolin at Vanderbilt University’s School of Music.

He and his ensemble closed with the rousing “Soldier’s Night Out” and an encore and left the stage following a standing ovation.

James Seybert
IT/Production Manager
Standard Speaker
21 North Wyoming Street
Hazleton, PA 18201

- Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, PA


All the Rage-New World
Gifts - Columbia



With its scintillating contemporary qualities, the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble has been hailed for revitalizing and reshaping a type of ensemble music that enjoyed nationwide popularity at the turn of the 20th century. Through its array of mandolins, mandola, mandocello, violin, guitar and bass, NME commands expressive string colors of kaleidoscopic range and variety.

Founded in 1991 by Butch Baldassari of the Blair School of Music, NME performs period arrangements for mandolin orchestra along with animated transcriptions of classical, jazz and pop music, along with new music from contemporary composers.

NME has performed at numerous venues and festivals throughout the country including the Over The Rhine in Cincinnati, Atlanta's Taste of the South and Sewanee Music Festival in Tennessee. Television performances include TNN's Country News, CBS Sunday Morning and the PBS production Tennessee Crossroads.

The group's most recent recording is the critically acclaimed Bach, Beatles, Bluegrass (SoundArt) released in October 2003. All The Rage (New World) was presented the 1999 Indie Award for Best Acoustic Instrumental Recording (AFIM) and Best Classical Recording at the Nashville Music Awards. NME's other recordings include Gifts (Columbia) and Plectrasonics (CMH).

"NME is a fabulous listening experience."
- Mark O' Connor

"In this unplugged era, NME fits right in."
- Diane Samms Rush, Knight- Ridder Newspapers

"NME offers a unique ensemble sound in string music today."
- Norman Levine, Classical Mandolin Society of America