It was a groundbreaking way to look at the life and music of Brahms, and I am floating on air to have a chance to be part of such a historic (if that's the best word) performances right here in New York City.
The program delved into the story of the "other" Brahms- not the venerated bearded old man, but a younger composer and his influences. I had always assumed that he wrote those Hungarian Dances because Hungary was some alien, exotic land. But I never considered this: Brahms was born in 1833, and so the Hungarian revolution of 1848 came at a very formative age for him. A flood of refugees exposed him to the music, and even more importantly, his career got started by touring with a Hungarian violinist, Eduard Remenyi.
That's all well and good, but what about Alec Baldwin?
Okay, okay, I was pretty star-struck by Alec Baldwin as well. I was curious if he would be a prima donna, or if he would be some jokester. At our rehearsal with the NY Phil, he was extremely professional, and the writer/producer of the show, Joe Horowitz, gave him very direct criticism. He wrote his notes and we worked very efficiently.
The script included a VERY scratchy recording of Brahms made in 1889. It was barely audible, and it evoked snickers during the rehearsal. Alec asked if he could come up with some line, and Joe was fine with it. During the performance, the audience struggled to decipher the hiss with some music buried, and Alec said "Ahh, they don't make them like that any more." He hit the spot exactly.
To tell the truth, Alec Baldwin was only a small part of the experience. Standing between the cello and viola section was a thrill for me, and one memorable moment was when the two sections were exchanging plucked phrases. Everyone was great- the orchestra was personally very warm and supportive. The conductor, Daniel Boico, was warm and really enjoyed what he was doing. As he said to us in passing, "If you're not having fun, why do it?"
Ultimately, the stars of the show for me were my bandmates in Életfa. Alex Fedoriouk played cimbalom, and he's one of my musical heroes. When we got on stage, I realized it was just another stage, and we needed to do what we do best: Enjoy ourselves. I was so glad when we started playing and Ildiko (our lead violin) broke out in one of her radiant smiles. Playing with Életfa is one of my greatest joys imaginable.
When we got back to our room, we not only had some home-made palinka, but the Phil left a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. What a classy operation.
The Feb. 29 email from our friends at Afropop leads with praise for Kakande's CD release on Feb. 24:
This past week, New York Afropoppers were treated to an extraordinary CD release party at S.O.B.'s for the Mande music crossover band Kakande. Kakande is led by Guinean balafon maestro Famoro Dioubate, and to give you some idea as to the depth of Famoro's connections in the global Mande music family, he was able to coax supderstar Mory Kante over from Paris to guest spot at three CD release gigs. The S.O.B.'s gig included high griot drama, with Famoro's Guinean patrons showering him with traditional clothing, cash, checks and even keys to a new car during the set. Kakande's debut CD, Dununya will be featured in Afropop Worldwide's upcoming edition of our Africa in America program series. Afropop also took advantage of the opportunity to interview Mory Kante in his hotel room in the wee hours before he flew home to Paris. We expect Mory and his own group on tour in the U.S. this summer, so stay tuned for more on that interview.
I have been asked to return this year, will my coterie of gyil lovers, to provide a very hands-on introduction to African xylophones and percussion for those in attendance, especially the younger ones. We had a great time last year, and it’s part of a whole day of music and performance of all styles (classical, rock, African, dance, theater), all FREE and open to the public.
For those who have not been, Music Mountain, is home to the nation’s longest continually running summer festival of chamber music, as well as great programming series in jazz and other styles. (Imaginary Homeland played the stage last summer). It’s in a beautiful location, 2 hours north of NYC, with plenty of other summer attractions in the area. Hope to see you there!
Last January, Jumbie Records was thrilled to welcome onboard Jon Grusauskus, musician, educator, and web-savvy music motivator, as our intern for the mammoth annual Arts Presenters conference in New York City. Jon was a huge help in every stage of an exhausting but thrilling 5-days of introducing Jumbie artists to presenters and venues around the world.
Since then, Jon has stayed a part of the Jumbie family, advising on a variety of outreach, and shepherding our roster of bands into the realm of MySpace (visit www.MySpace.com/jumbierecords, with links to the bands).
Jon is also a founding member of the Connecticut band Lespecial, which has been tearing up the northeast with a string of gigs this summer, including: UNH Solarfest, Bennington College, a Darfur benefit concert, and Webster Theater in Hartford.
You can check them out on their own page at: www.myspace.com/lespecial
On June 2nd, the city of Detroit will play host to the 2nd Annual Michigan Steel Drum Festival, the only Michigan festival to focus entirely on the breadth of music composed for steel drums. The steel drum, or "pan" as it's known in the Caribbean, is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago where it was invented in the mid-twentieth century. The instrument was first introduced and popularized in the state of Michigan by the Trinidad Tripoli Steelband in 1973. Numerous community organizations, high schools, universities, and professional ensembles throughout the state have since taken up the steel drum. The Michigan Steel Drum Festival will feature a total of twelve Michigan-based steelbands. These groups will perform a wide variety of music on an amazing range of 55-gallon steel drums—including the rumbling six-drum bass pans, the powerful triple cello pans, the resounding double guitar pans, the lyrical double second pans, and the clarion single tenor pan.
The Michigan Steel Drum Festival is being produced by Island Foundry Productions. The festival will take place on Saturday, June 2nd at the Hockeytown Café, where live steel drum music will be heard from 2pm until 2am. In addition, a DJ provided by WD Production will spin island blends between each band's performance and traditional Caribbean food and handicrafts will be available for purchase. Festival merchandise and CDs of the performing groups will also be on sale. Admission for the entire day of concerts is $10.
“There’s been a growing interest in Caribbean steel pan music throughout our state," says Mark Stone, Special Instructor in World Music at Oakland University. “Many people will certainly be surprised that all twelve groups are from Michigan. I think they'll be even more surprised when they hear the incredibly diverse music performed by these Michigan steelbands. The festival is a unique opportunity for people in the Michigan steel drum community to come together and share their passion for pan.”
The Michigan Steel Drum Festival will feature the following bands:
• Southpaw Isle Steelband
• The Gratitude Steel Band
• Steelheads Steelband
• Third Coast Steel
• Oakland University’s Pan-Jumbies
• St. Louis High School Steel Drum Band
• Caribbean Pans Of Joy Steelband
Our new piece "Ides Plus Two" was written for the occasion of our planned appearance at Detroit's Max M. Fisher Music Center -- 2 days after the Ides of March, which was St. Patrick's Day (the piece has a fiddling sound that owes a bit to the Irish among others). Instead, it will get a delayed premiere at Barbes in Brooklyn, on May 18th.
The same show will feature the premiere of a second new tune (!! haven't done that in a few years), just hammered out in a frenzy by yours truly. This one plays with a laid-back swing feeling overlaid with a 12/8 clave feel, and a smattering of double-time rhythms. The name? I have no idea. Come to the show and find out!
This and more music, with Mark's rockin' African drumset, Marlene's lovely violin, and Matt's irrepressible bass will be on hand in the intimate and eminently listenable music room at Barbes in Park Slope Brooklyn. Please join us!
Jake Shulman-Ment has started a new Hungarian-Jewish group with yours truly (Raul Rothblatt) playing bass. We had our first gig at the Eldridge Street Synagogue in Manhattan. I have been hoping to explore this repertoire for years, so I am happy we got a review in the Yiddish Forward.
For musings of the intersection of Jewish and Hungarian culture, check out Bob Cohens' blog, and especially the post about Életfa and the Balkan Festival. You can also check out more photos of the show here.
This Saturday (March 31) in Brooklyn, the xylophonist Kakraba Lobi of Ghana will be playing a rare NYC concert. Kakraba is a wonderful musician, teacher, and human being, and one of the very first ambassadors to bring the “gyil” xylophone to Western audiences. I've had the pleasure of playing with him and bringing a workshop of his to school kids in New York. He’s appearing with Valerie Naranjo & Barry Olsen (who put in a thrilling appearance at the second African Xylophone Festival, presented by Jumbie Records).
This show is part of an exciting new Saturday nights series of “world, fusion, and experimental music” being curated by Maria Cangiano at “Night and Day” (reborn in the backroom of Biscuit Barbeque). Other recent and upcoming shows include Candombe “music from the Rio De La Plata,” avant garde Argentine piano music, and “eastern soul music meets jazz fusion.”
Saturday, March 31, 6:30pm (Brooklyn, NY)
MUSIC FROM GHANA: KAKRABA LOBI with Valerie Naranjo & Barry Olsen
$10 cover plus drink minimum
Night and Day (backroom of Biscuit Barbecue)
230 5th Ave @ President Street / 718-399-2161