This is a Celebrity Series at Home digital performance. Streaming live from GBH Calderwood Studio on Friday, March 18 at 8:00 pm and available for on demand viewing until Thursday, March 24 at 7:00 pm.
Every now and then, there comes along a musician who almost singlehandedly changes popular perception about an instrument’s possibilities. Mandolinist Avi Avital is one such musician. The Israeli virtuoso is the first mandolin soloist ever nominated for a classical GRAMMY Award, and he continues to open minds to the instrument’s expansive repertory potential, ranging from classical concertos and historic works to a melding of contemporary influences from around the world. His glowing reputation is equally global, as evidenced by the concert halls he fills on multiple continents, and it’s always a thrill to experience his magic in the intimacy of a small venue.
This collaboration will be the third and final appearance of the season by the cutting-edge Brooklyn Rider string quartet. Together they will perform an appropriately diverse, yet-to-be-announced program. We will share updates as the repertoire is announced, but with such nearly endless possibilities, this is a case in which not knowing is equally enticing. Don’t miss this final Brooklyn Rider event of the season, performed live in front of an intimate studio audience at GBH’s Calderwood Studio.
Johnny Gandelsman violin
Colin Jacobsen violin
Nicholas Cords viola
Michael Nicolas cello
Avi Avital mandolin
from La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid
The cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima was born in Palermo, Italy, in 1962. He studied cello with Giovanni Perreira and Antonio Janigro and composition with his father Eliodoro Sollima and Milko Keleman. As composer, Sollima notes "I have been captivated by multiple musical languages and sought to create a unique compositional voice by combining elements of classical and rock music, as well as drawing from the ethnic music characteristic of the Mediterranean region, in particular my native Sicily." He composes for acoustic and electric instruments, and others invented by himself or created for him, as in the tenor violin represented in Caravaggio’s paintings, or an ice-cello that he played at 3,500 m (more than 11,400 ft) in altitude, in an igloo-theatre. Prelude for solo mandolin was written for and dedicated to Avi Avital and was first premiered in the Festival “Suoni delle Dolomiti” in Italy in 2018. Sollima states, “The piece takes inspiration from the Southern Italian folk music genre called “Pizzica” or “Taranta,” featuring an ecstatic 6/8 rhythm which is highly characteristic of that style.”
Commissioned by Adele and John Gray Endowment Fund and Avi Avital.
"Entr’acte" was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Op. 77, no. 2 string quartet — with the spare and soulful shift to the D-flat major trio in the minuet. It is structured like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further. I love the way some music (like the minuets of Op. 77) suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition.
– Caroline Shaw
First performed by the Brentano Quartet at Princeton University, April 2011
One of the first pieces I wrote for Brooklyn Rider was “Brooklesca,” an ode to our bustling home borough, inspired by some of the vibrant musical cultures found therein (i.e. klezmer, Eastern European folk music, Middle Eastern music). “Time and Again” begins where “Brooklesca” left off and invites the wonderful mandolinist Avi Avital into the party, whose own omnivorous musical explorations and virtuosity make him an ideal partner. The piece derives much of its musical material from three musical motifs: one is the opening gesture, whose roots come from members of the quartet fiddling around in soundchecks (I don't even know who first came up with the gesture) and are the musical equivalent of “awww yeahh!!!” It is a riff that to my ears could have emanated from the blues as easily as from the Eastern European Roma people (it isn’t a direct quote of anything, as far as I know). The second “theme” is in the style of a free, improvisatory Doina (Romanian), or Skaros (Greek), or Taksim (Turkish and Middle Eastern). Finally, juxtaposed with the sometimes modal, sometimes diatonic quality of those gestures and sections, we have a more chromatic, freely “atonal” motif that comes in and out throughout the piece in different guises.
– Colin Jacobsen
“Obrigado” in Portuguese means “thank you.” The idea for this piece came from a desire of mine to explore the music, chants, and rhythms of an Afro-Brazilian religion called Umbanda. The music consists of simple melodies, with no harmonic support, which is accompanied by vigorous, complex rhythmic patterns underneath. I was introduced to this music as a child, and some of it, especially the rhythms, make up a significant part of my earliest musical memories.
As I wrote the piece, I found myself being deeply lured into the very source of this faith, which seems to have first appeared in the early African Yorùbá mythology. The Yorùbá religion (originated in Southern Nigeria) is extraordinarily rich, and abundant in spiritual philosophy such as life after death and reincarnation. Overall, it carries beautiful messages of substance over matter and intangible values, and it honors the transcendent. Religious practices were common in the worship of divinities called Orishas (in Portuguese, orixás). An orisha is an entity, that acts as an intermediate force between people and the supernatural. They can also be viewed as deities, because they can control certain elements in nature.
I have a vague idea of what Yorùbá music sounded like in its original form before it was introduced to many parts of the world as a result of slavery in the Americas as early as the 16th century. But it is not wrong to assume that African drumming and its intricate, complex polyrhythm played a huge role in the construction of the mixture it produced while in contact with other cultures and musics of the world. In Brazil, for example, samba and olodum were born out of ‘mother rhythms’ named after African regions such as Angola and Nago, respectively.
In writing Obrigado, I carefully listened to more than one hundred chants and chose the ones that resonated the most with me. The work is written in 11 movements and loosely follows the traditional religious practice of a Brazilian umbanda ceremony. It follows from its opening chants, through the honoring of each of the most important Orishas until the final closing anthem, which sends out a powerful message of gratitude for the gift of life.
– Clarice Assad
Commissioned by the Concordia Chamber Players Ensemble.
“Arum der Fayer” or “Around the Fire” is a traditional Yiddish song that also talks about the bliss of being together around a small fire. In my version, the song appears and disappears, as a ghost, in the midst of a slow processional and restrained tears. Schubert’s motif of the slow movement of “Death and the Maiden” is in the background throughout that first section. A different manifestation of Death interrupts the processional in a short and furiously baroque appearance that opens the door to three funny and mischievous dance variations on the B section of the Yiddish song. The movement closes with the reemergence of the opening processional. I wrote this movement in memory of Guillermo Limonic, who loved singing in Yiddish, and died of Covid in the early days of the pandemic.
– Osvaldo Golijov
“Culai” was the nickname of Nicolae Neacsu, the elder violinist and vocalist of the wild and infamous Romany ensemble, the Taraf de Haïdouks. Culai’s trademark tugging of the bowhair across a string, in the song Balada Conducatorlui, has been widely seen by more than 200,000 viewers on YouTube, in concerts worldwide, and in Tony Gatlif’s film Latcho Drom. Nicolae Neacsu died in 2002, and in writing this piece, I took much inspiration from the way he seduced the audience with his gaze, told stories of his life in Romania, and played violin, equally with the innocence of an amateur student, and the smirk of a professional who’s been on the road for decades and has seen everything.
I first heard Romany music recordings in the informal street markets of my native Moscow, when I was barely seven years old. In 2005, I was asked to arrange several selections of the Taraf’s repertoire for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble — a few months after that, I heard the Taraf perform live at Carnegie Hall. That year, I also met Inna Barmash, the vocalist of the New York-based band Romashka, and now we are married with two beautiful children. In 2006, while assisting Osvaldo Golijov on the film soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s
Youth Without Youth, we visited the band’s village of Clejani, near Bucharest, where I even played with the band for a few tunes.
“Culai” is cast in five movements that depict a vague “life cycle” story. The fourth movement, “Love Potion, Expired” is an arrangement of a tune I had originally written for my ensemble, Ljova and the Kontraband, a breathless tarantella that perpetually falls onto itself.
– Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin
Commissioned by Brooklyn Rider. Dedicated to Brooklyn Rider, Culai Neacsu, and Romica Puceanu. This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.
“A string quartet of boundless imagination.”NPR
“[Avi Avital] draws his audience (as well as his fellow musicians) forward. Instead of being pushed back in our seats in stunned reaction to Mr. Avital’s formidable technique, we crane toward him, hoping to absorb more of his instrument’s lyrical, twanging sonorities.”THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Additional support for this performance is provided by
This performance is made possible in part by support from Celebrity Series' LIVE PERFORMANCE! Arts for All Innovation Funds.