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New Classical Tracks: Capturing the magic of Venice with Avi Avital

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New Classical Tracks is a Syndicated Feature airing Nationally on Classical 24 & Statewide on Minnesota Public Radio. Listen to Julie Amacher's Feature with Avi Avital

Treviso is a charming, historic town with Renaissance squares, palaces, richly frescoed churches, and streets woven with ancient waterways. According to mandolinist Avi Avital, this quiet, stress-free gateway to Venice was the perfect place to record the music of the Baroque master, Antonio Vivaldi. He was from Venice, and so is the orchestra on this disc.

"While recording Vivaldi, obviously, I really wanted to do it with them because recording this Venetian music with an orchestra that's actually all from Venice just added this extra spice to it. You perform, you rehearse Vivaldi in the lunch break, you eat Venetian food, in the rehearsal everyone speaks Venetian dialect. You're surrounded with Venetian culture. It was a wonderful experience and that's what gives them this extra beat when playing Venetian music."

If Avi Avital was to record all the Vivaldi concertos written for mandolin, this recording would be about 16 minutes long. That's why Avi has created some new mandolin arrangements of Vivaldi's other concertos. Initially he was concerned about blending the sound of his modern mandolin with the period instruments of the Venice Baroque Orchestra. In the end, what was important was not the instruments themselves, but how they delivered the authentic message through the music itself.

"During the rehearsals, for example, I was avoiding the tremolo, the one technique that is so much associated with mandolin, for producing long notes," Avi explains, "because it wasn't a common technique in the Baroque but also because for me always a tremolo was a sentimental thing, a more romantic thing, and when I play Bach and Vivaldi and Baroque music in general, I tend to avoid that kind of throwback to this nostalgic feeling. So we rehearsed the second movement of Summer by Vivaldi and I was plucking it without any tremolo and trying to keep it elegant and clean. And just for fun in one of the takes, I started to play a little bit of tremolo. And all of them stopped and said, 'Do more of that! It's gorgeous!'"

Summer has always been Avi's favorite of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. In fact, a ferocious summer storm blew its way through Venice one afternoon while Avi was preparing to record this work. "You have to really experience it before playing Summer, and I did," he says. "It was a hot summer day and just five minutes before we went to a concert playing this Summer, an enormous hailstorm started to come from the skies. We were all wet and overwhelmed by the surprise of this storm. It went as fast as it came and that was an 'aha' moment for me when I, ten minutes afterwards, played exactly what happened the way Vivaldi describes it in his music in Summer."

The Violin concerto in A minor comes from Vivaldi's influential set of 12 concertos called L'Estro Armonico. According to Avi, it's probably the most famous concerto of the set. "For me, this piece is specifically associated with youth," Avi says. "This is the first concerto that everyone plays after two or three years of violin lessons. For myself, and for everyone in the orchestra, it was very much connected with our youth. While recording this piece, we told ourselves, 'Forget what we know about this piece and try to play it like it's the very, very first time you ever heard this music and every cadenza and every sequence blows your mind away,' because the first time you listen to this music, that's the effect. So we were all having this very nice moment in the studio where we really tried to imagine that we were playing it as kids, but of course with the knowledge and the technique and the experience we have as adults."

After weaving your way through the six instrumental works on this recording, you can lose yourself along the Grand Canal of Venice with Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez. "That was a very special thing to have him on the album," Avi admits. "I feel very lucky about it. He's just amazing. It's a folk song from the time of Vivaldi. It's in the Venetian dialect and the text is folkloristic - a little bit rude, even. The idea I had was for the people to imagine that they're hearing a concert of Vivaldi's music in Venice at that time in the church or the theater. The concert ended, and now they walk out and they take a gondola back home, and this would be the music they would hear on the streets or in the canals of Venice. This is the real folk Venetian music."

This new recording of Vivaldi's music with mandolinist Avi Avital and the Venice Baroque Orchestra is not just a delightful concert, it can be your own personal gateway to Venice.