Knudsen Productions offers the SONOS Handbell Ensemble for Classical and Pops Symphonic performance throughout the United States and Canada. This astonishing group of virtuosi bring a level of artistry and performance to stages with Symphonies, Chamber Orchestras and String Quartets that thrills audiences world wide.
Please check the PROGRAM tab for repertoire.
What is a Handbell Ensemble?
Consider a single instrument that takes many people to play. The individual notes in the handbell instrument each require a musician's hand upon it, to place its tone in exact relationship with the other notes in the score, all in the shared context of rhythm, tempo, dynamics, articulation, and the overall musical line. This extremely complex process becomes second nature to the virtuoso handbell musician, who, like a pianist, must be aware of the character of the entire work, while controlling only a few of the tones in the instrument.
This instrument consists of a variable number of cast bronze bells fitted to flexible handles and equipped with clapper mechanisms that move in a single plane, striking the casting at only two places (forward and back). The tone of the bells can be varied by the tuning of the overtones at the time of manufacture, or by changing the density of the clappers at the strikepoints during performance. Similar tuned instruments with clappers can be made from other materials, such as handchimes made from aluminum, which produce different but compatible timbres. The differing sounds of the various makes of bells and chimes give the artistic director a symphonic palette of timbres to use separately and in conjunction to achieve his or her creative vision for the works under direction.
A set of handbells can range from a single octave (12 or 13 bells, depending on the accidentals) up to seven octaves, though most ensembles perform on five octaves, or 61 bells. Skilled handbell musicians can play as many as six bells at one time or in quick succession. Sonos performs on four and a half octaves of Malmarks, an octave of bass Schulmerichs, five octaves of Malmark handchimes, and five octaves of English-made Whitechapel handbells, as well as a variety of other percussion instruments.
The fascination in watching a superb handbell ensemble perform lies for many people in the completely intuitive relationship the dozen or so musicians must achieve with each other. A pianist or flutist, for example, has one brain controlling two hands and delivers a musical whole in his or her unique style. Imagine if the flutist joined a flute choir that divided up the grand staff, wherein each flutist was assigned sole responsibility for three or four of the notes, and was instructed to play only these notes where they occurred in the score and no others--and in addition, the flutists must all join their notes seamlessly, so that the result is musically pleasing! When many brains control many hands, the results can be less than pleasing if the ensemble is not trained to work together as one.
Sonosian musicians, having achieved their musical expertise on a variety of other instruments, are attracted to the complexity and dance-like challenge of performing on handbells. This instrument requires great personal discipline, a high level of cooperation, extremely good rhythm, and a willingness to become a component of a musical whole in which the communion of all parts is essential to the success of the ensemble. Audiences around the world are awed by the intimacy of this amazing musical relationship.
Sonos Handbell Ensemble
With a collective experience of over 100 years of handbell ringing, Sonos Handbell Ensemble's virtuosity mesmerizes audiences at major world events including the 1993 World Ice Skating Championships and the United Nations 50th Anniversary Celebrations. Their international and national touring and appearances on major television and radio broadcasts (most recently a second appearance with Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio broadcast from San Francisco’s Masonic Theater) have helped introduce handbell virtuosity to millions of people around the world.
At the forefront of handbell artistry since it’s founding in 1990, Sonos has moved handbells into the musical mainstream by seeking the best transcriptions and original material available today. They encourage composers to write for bells alone and in combination with other instruments and voices, and premier these solo and orchestral works. The world premiere of William Ludtke's Suite for Handbells and Orchestra (1994) and Symphony No. 3, Summer Rain (1997), with the Oakland East Bay Symphony received critical acclaim and his music drama, Gaia Sophia (1998) presented handbells as a major part of an operatic work. Other orchestral performances have included Ian Hÿtch’s Spiritual Suite (2000), Ellen Hofmann’s Ragtime Stew (2007) on the rags of Scott Joplin, Johann Christian Bach’s Concerto in B-flat (2009) transcribed by J. Meredith and a November 2011 debut with the San Francisco Symphony.
The Bose Corporation recorded Sonos for an in-store theater video presentation demonstrating the Bose five-channel digital surround sound technology. This presentation, played in stores around the world, and reached an estimated audience of four million listeners.
Navigator Tree (2000), commissioned by the American Composers Forum and the National Endowment for the Arts for the millennium year, was written for Sonos, Gamelan Pusaka Sunda and San Jose Taiko. This unprecedented work, composed by computer futurist and inventor of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, was documented in a film about the Continental Harmony project that aired nationwide on PBS in the fall of 2001 to an audience of over 148 million. Hell’s Belles (2001) by composer Libby Larsen, commissioned for Sonos and mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, toured the US with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. A collaboration with the Kronos Quartet in Daniel Feinsmith's commissioned work, Yahweh, played to a sold-out house January 2005.
Sonos’s first CD, on the Well-Tempered label, was called "sensational" by the San Francisco Examiner. Two months after its release, this CD appeared in the November 1994 Gramophone Magazine as disc of the month for KFUO-St. Louis classical radio. Their second release, Christmas with Sonos, was selected as "disc of the month" by San Francisco's classical KDFC-FM and appeared in the December 1995 issue of Gramophone magazine. Their third CD, Classical Sonos, featuring the music of Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart was released in 1996. A fourth recording released in 2001, A Very Classical Christmas with San Francisco Symphony principle flutist Timothy Day, was chosen by the New York Times’ WQXR and NPR’s Weekend Edition as top pics of the season. A fifth CD, Best of Sonos, captures 15 years of concert favorites and their newest CD, Contrasts, contains music from three worlds: European, American and Asian. A critically acclaimed first DVD, Ringing Up: Music of Three Worlds, by Oscar-winning videographer Eric Thiermann was released in December of 2009 and aired on PBS September 2011. A 2nd DVD, Heart of a Bell, filmed in ten countries, premiered at the Pacific Rim Film Festival in September 2011. These recordings receive national airplay.
National, Asian and European tours covering a wide repertoire delight audiences of all ages. Six tours to major Japanese concerts halls have been sell-out successes with every audience demanding multiple encores and a Christmas special with Sonos filmed by Japan’s public broadcasting system (NHK) is repeated annually.