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EXCLUSIVE: Mandolin Virtuoso Avi Avital Talks New Album ‘Between Worlds’ and Carnegie Hall Debut

By Louise Burton l.burton@classicalite.com on Jan 16, 2014 09:25 PM EST

Mandolinist Avi Avital's mission is two-fold: to revitalize the mandolin in both solo and chamber repertoire and inspire the creation of new music for an instrument that has been, in his view, unjustly neglected by classical composers.

"The mandolin was very popular in the Baroque era, especially in Italy," Avital said. "Vivaldi and some lesser-known Italian composers, such as Paisiello and Barbella, wrote music for the instrument."

But after that time, the mandolin fell out of favor with classical composers. "There is a gap in the repertoire," Avital acknowledged, speaking from New York where he is preparing to give his Carnegie Hall recital debut on January 17.

Avital, who was born in Israel in 1978, currently lives in Berlin.

Of course, the mandolin continued to play an important role as a folk instrument, and can still be heard in European and American folk music today.

It is this dual nature of the mandolin that Avital explores in his second album, Between Worlds, released on Deutsche Grammophon just two days ago. Between the release of his new album and his Carnegie Hall debut, this is a crucial time, for Avital and for the instrument whose legacy he is trying to revitalize.

But who better to take on this challenge than the musician some have called, "the first rock star of the mandolin."

"The release of this album is another dream coming true this week," Avital said. Between Worlds is a collection of music by composers from the early to mid-20th century, including Bela Bartók, Manuel de Falla, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Astor Piazzolla.

What is the one thing these names have in common? As Avital noted, "they are all classical composers inspired by folk music."

Avital collaborated with a string quartet and two musicians well-known for their improvisational abilities, clarinetist Giora Feidman and jazz accordionist Richard Galliano. He likened the process of creating this album to "a huge playground" where the musicians felt free to improvise on a specific theme, add a new rhythm line to the music or change the instrumentation.

"We thought, how can we make this music sound closer to its folk music origins?" asked Avital. The musicians were after a sound that is not really classical and not really folk--but somewhere in between.

Just like the mandolin, itself.

"For instance, I thought, how can I make the de Falla sound more Spanish? We added the cajon, the typical percussion used in flamenco, as well as Spanish guitar," he explained further.

Between Worlds is Avital's follow-up to his well received 2012 DG debut Bach, featuring his own transcriptions of the composer's concertos for harpsichord and violin, in arrangements for mandolin and orchestra.

Creating new arrangements and transcriptions of existing music--for his albums and for his live concerts--is one way that Avital is adding to the mandolin repertoire. He is also asking composers to write music specifically for the instrument.

"I got into the habit of commissioning new works every year from different composers," Avital said. "Tomorrow at Carnegie Hall, I will give the New York premiere of Cymbeline, a work for mandolin and string quartet that I commissioned from British composer David Bruce."

Cymbeline is the god of the sun in Celtic mythology, and the name of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays. Avital describes the music as "haunting" and "folkloristic."

Avital will perform Cymbeline and other works at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall on Friday, January 17 at 7:30 p.m.

More information about his program is available at carnegiehall.org.

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Avi Avital, Mandolin, Between Worlds, Deutsche Grammophon, Bach, Vivaldi, Carnegie Hall, Giora Feidman, Manuel de Falla, Richard Galliano, David Bruce

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