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Classic 107 - Winnipeg: Intermezzo host Chris Wolf chats with Avi Avital about 'The Art of the Mandolin'

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This Week Intermezzo Host Chris Wolf had the pleasure of talking with mandolin phenome Avi Avital about his latest CD. Click here to see the page, look at the video, and read the entire conversation here below.

2020 will be remembered for the COVID 19 pandemic. Throughout this year, all sectors of the arts have taken a huge hit with concerts, exhibitions, and theatre performances all being cancelled for the foreseeable future. Thankfully COVID 19 has not crushed the artistic spirit. Artists have continued to create and share their art in whatever means necessary; this artistic spirit that has continued to shine through these unusual times.

The Israeli mandolin virtuoso, Avi Avital's latest disc "The Art of the Mandolin" could surely be described as one of the brightest lights that have come out of the classical recording industry in 2020.

Recorded in January 2020 "The Art of the Mandolin" made it just under the wire before the lockdowns hit. "They were beautiful days of recording" says Avital "I love it so much, you get to go so deep into the music." Avital had good musical company in the recording studio. He is joined on the album by some of the absolute best players on their individual instruments in the world. Guitarist Sean Shibe, harpist Anneleen Lenaerts, theorbo player Ophira Zakai, and Harpsichordist Yozhar Karshon all perform on the CD, making it an absolute joy to listen to!

Avital says the musicians on the disc rehearsed a lot and before the sessions and even did a couple of performances to run through the material before the recording sessions started. "It was absolutely lovely."

Then the March lockdowns started, which for Avital was a mixed blessing. "It actually gave me the time to edit it, and post produce it in a way I like." Avital says. One of the other benefits was that in Avital's words "It sort of saved me from sinking into reading the news all day, and thinking about all the concerts that had been cancelled. It gave me an opportunity to do music and know that I am producing something…that was really helpful and nice."

"The Art of the Mandolin" is made up of a wide variety of music. Works by more familiar composers such as Vivaldi, Beethoven and Scarlatti, are on the disc, but also twentieth century composers such as Hans Werner Henze, Paul Ben-Haim, and David Bruce. The one trait that ties the album together is that all of the works are performed on instruments that are plucked. In regards to the Henze Avital says "There is an attempt here to create the equivalent of a string quartet or woodwind quintet…or whatever the chamber music ultimate format is for the plucked strings family in classical music." This is a character and quality that binds the disc together, and as a listener you will be amazed at all of the wonderful colors and textures that are created by the various combinations of plucked string instruments. It is really quite remarkable!

Avi Avital is known for his championing the mandolin as a serious concert instrument. He has had dozens and dozens of works written for him, and has never ceased to explore and adapt literature so that it can be performed on the mandolin.

An interesting example of this is a Scarlatti sonata that he has arranged for mandolin, theorbo, and cello. Avital makes a convincing argument that this sonata was written for mandolin, or some other stringed instrument. One of the biggest reasons that he is convinced it not written for the keyboard is that the stretch that Scarlatti demands for a keyboard player is extreme, whereas if the piece were played on mandolin, the writing becomes much more idiomatic and makes much more sense.

Another notable example of Avital's exploration of the literature on the CD is a piece by the Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim; his piece "Sonata a tre". This is music written for mandolin, guitar and harpsichord. "This piece was found by coincidence in 2001 by one of my friends, we were studying at the same school in Jerusalem," says Avital. "As a student job he was working at a musical archive. One day while literally dusting the shelves he discovered this piece." Avital and his friend spent the next four months trying to decipher Ben-Haim's hand writing and figuring things out. The result is a wonderful piece full of classical and Middle Eastern flavors.

"The Art of the Mandolin" is a phenomenal CD! Avi Avital's musicianship, virtuosity and passion come shining through on the disc, and is made that much more enjoyable by the fabulous musicians he has performing with him on the disc. This is a CD that has to be heard.