Monday 17 November 2008

A Few Extraordinary Weeks

I left the UK for New York City shortly after the Groanbox Boys Fall 2008 UK tour. My work Treny had its world premiere by Dawn Upshaw, Stephen Prutsman, and the Ensemble ACJW at Carnegie's Zankel Hall on November 2. The entire process from rehearsal to performance was humbling and awe inspiring. The intensity of everyone's listening was something to behold. Dawn Upshaw is a miracle.
On November 3, composer David Bruce (whose Piosenki was also on the Zankel Hall program) and I had an interview with Andrew Cyr of the Metropolis Ensemble to discuss our Groanbox concert on January 28. Watch the Metropolis site for video updates.
I left NYC for Hong Kong early in the morning on November 4 for a performance of Osvaldo Golijov's Azul with Yo-Yo Ma, Jamey Haddad, Keita Ogawa and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra on November 9. I would also be performing Astor Piazzolla's Aconcagua concerto for bandoneon and orchestra, which I rearranged for piano accordion/stradella bass. This would be my first time performing this masterwork, and the first time as a soloist with an orchestra.
I met with conductor Lan Shui on November 8, thirty minutes before the only scheduled rehearsal for the Piazzolla. As we talked about the piece, I noticed he was not feeling well. He excused himself. Before I knew it, the entire rehearsal was cancelled. I would have to make do with the dress rehearsal only, which was in the morning on the day of the concert. Fortunately, Lan Shui was feeling better and the dress rehearsal went well. I enjoyed the hall and the experience of being the soloist in a concerto with such a fine orchestra providing accompaniment.
When show time came, I was busy practicing and got word that Yo-Yo was looking for me. He took me into his dressing room and asked if I would like to do an encore with him. Music from The Mission soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. We went over it a few times while people were knocking on his door telling me it was time to go on for the Piazzolla.
I felt the Piazzolla and Golijov went very well. The orchestra was sounding great and everyone was in top form. The audience responded enthusiastically to each piece.
Then came the surprise encore. I mentioned to Yo-Yo that I wanted to be plugged in so that I would have the extended bass frequencies of the hyper-accordion. It was effective. I am excited by this new exploration of using the hyper-accordion at very low volumes while the rest of the ensemble is acoustic. This was also how we performed Treny. The amplification is used to extend frequency, not volume.
The house went wild after the encore, and Yo-Yo came and went a few times before sitting down one more time, preparing to do another encore. I suggested Piazzolla's Libertango, as I had shown Yo-Yo an arrangement I was working on earlier in the day. He said he had something else in mind. But he asked the audience first. Someone yelled out "Libertango!!" But it wasn't to be this time.
Yo-Yo played the Sarabande from Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 6. I had the best seat in the house, less than an arm's length away. It was one of the most profound experiences of my lifetime.
The next day Jamey, Keita and I left Hong Kong for two concerts in Lucerne with cellist Alisa Weilerstein. We had a few rehearsals with conductor Paul Goodwin and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra before the two scheduled concerts.
After the Hong Kong show Jamey, Keita and I were jamming on a forró tune I know called Feira de Mangaio by Sivuca. We thought it might make a good encore, so we showed it to Alisa. She rocked it!!!
Paul conducted the LSO in Stravinsky's Firebird Suite for the second half. It was another life changing listening experience.
The concert and an interview with me and Alisa will be broadcast later in the month on Swiss radio.
We stayed at the lovely 14th Century Rebstock Hotel in Lucerne. The bells of St Leodegar Cathedral echoed in my room. I had a great view of them, Lake Lucerne and the Swiss Alps from my window.
Early in the morning after the second concert I made my way back to London for a performance at the Blues Piano Orgy at Brook's Blues Bar along with John Challis and John B. Harris. It was a great night. And nice to be home singing and playing some piano. I miss it!!

Sunday 13 July 2008

MJWB @ De Bijenkorf on Dam Square, Amsterdam

Improvisations on hyper-accordion from the corner window at De Bijenkorf on Dam Square Amsterdam. Presented on June 19, 2008 as part of the Holland Festival.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio

A few weeks ago I was part of an Easter week performance of Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión según San Marcos at the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan.

At the time, I was not aware of the historical significance of the site. There was so much travelling and rehearsing, and witnessing and discovering, that it was not always easy to keep informed about where I was exactly, or what I was doing. (Nothing new there!!)

It wasn't until right before the show that I became rather curious about Sant'Ambrogio and his Basilica. While we were waiting for "the curtain to go up" Dan Brantigan suggested I check out the crypt beneath the altar, which was serving as our "stage" that evening. The crypt contained three skeletons.

Earlier in the day I had an experience that literally left me lying at the giant door of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. I should have known then that something was strange about the place. I am not prone to collapsing really.

We had just finished up our first rehearsal in the Basilica and all the musicians were packing up. María Guinand, the incredible Beatrice-like conductor of the Schola Cantorum de Caracas, made an announcement.

"We are very fortunate to be here, to perform La Pasión in a church for the first time. We have a gift for everyone"

And she proceeded to conduct the choir in a performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Ave Maria

I proceeded to leave my body.

Someone has posted the actual performance on youtube. Click here to watch it: Ave Maria

Everyone was frozen. Some people were crying, others dazed. When it was over, many people appeared to "get over it" somewhat quickly and went about their business. All I knew is that I needed to lay down and look at the sky. So, I made it outside the giant doors, put my accordion down, and stretched out on the ground.

To my complete surprise Dan Brantigan sent me the photo at the top of this page a few days later . (Just who is this Dan Brantigan anyway? His website may offer a few clues, but I think it is a far cry from the big picture.)

I can not describe what I felt really. I saw some colours and recited some impromptu poetry to a friend. Then I fell asleep. I awoke to the sounds of a woman shouting to get my attention. It turned out to be the undercover Italian police who were outside the gate observing. They wanted to know why I was collapsed at the door of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, one of the oldest churches in Italy.

I managed to convince them that I meant no disrespect, and after a few tense moments, they decided to let me go.

The next day I learned a lot more about the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which used to be called Basilica Martyrum because it was in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions had been buried. The Basilica was built by Bishop Ambrose in 379-386. The three skeletons under the crypt are Saint Ambrose and Saints Gervasius and Protasius.

There had never been a musical performance in the church until La Pasión, of course.