BY ELEANOR WOOD
Avi Avital is on a worldwide mission to bring back the mandolin.
The Grammy-nominated artist has been heralded as one of the most important musicians of his generation, and has built a reputation as something of a musical trailblazer. He returns to Australia to perform a series of concerts in partnership with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. We spoke to Avi about everything from the joys of YouTube to the advantages of an unorthodox musical education.
Your music spans so many different genres and musical worlds. What prompted this mission to engage with such a broad range of styles?
I think the source of it is simply my curiosity. Although my training has always been classical – and classical music has always taken the major portion of my concert activity -as long as I can remember I’ve always liked listening to, exploring and playing other different musical genres. More than that, I find having different musical experiences extremely nutritious and enriching.
You’ve mentioned previously that you had some unorthodox teachers, particularly in the early stages of your training. You described one of your first teachers Motti Schmidt as ‘old-school Moscow style’. Can you talk a little about what you meant by that?
The unorthodoxy of my education is first of all due to the fact that, until I was 23-years-old, I never studied with a real mandolin teacher. Motti Schmidt, as well as my other teachers during my studies in Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem, was a violinist. We were sitting in the class while he was holding his violin, and I my mandolin. That turned out to be a great advantage – my “violin” teachers were never conditioned by the prejudices of the mandolin and treated it as any other more common instrument. They were teaching me music making, and not how to play a mandolin.
What do you think about the idea that classical music is becoming an increasingly visual medium? Have you ever felt pressure to look a certain way or to use an image to promote your music?
I actually believe that going to a concert hall has become more relevant and more appealing than ever. It is true that a lot of people (including myself) go on YouTube to explore new music, to discover artists. But with all music being available one click away, the ceremonial live-concert experience is suddenly regaining its irreplaceable charm. Where else can one sit an hour-and-a-half, doing absolutely nothing else but being served with beautiful music by excellent musicians?
It has been suggested that you are partly responsible for the resurrection of the mandolin; for bringing it back and putting it centre-stage in our concert halls. Do you think you’re part of a broader trend towards the return of the instrument, and why do you think it was missing in the first place?
Throughout history, for various historical, social, and demographic reasons, the mandolin was never really conceived as a concert-hall instrument, but rather as an amateur one. It is a little bit similar to what the classical guitar was 100 years ago: an instrument mainly associated with folk music (Flamenco, for example), with very limited repertoire of art-music and next-to-zero opportunities to encounter it in a concert hall. It was Andres Segovia who first revolutionized the classical guitar, by commissioning new repertoire from the foremost composers of his generation (like De-Falla, Villa-Lobos, Rodrigo etc), by cleverly and sensitively arranging pieces by Bach and other prominent composers and by introducing these all on main stages around the globe. Today, the classical guitar is one of the most popular instruments, both in music schools and in concert halls. To a great degree this is my inspiration and also the affirmation that such a revolution can occur for the mandolin as well; offering, hopefully, a long-term, worldwide contribution to classical music.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
When you walk on stage, never forget that it is not that the audience is there for you, but it is you who is there for the audience.
Avi Avital will perform with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. For details, visit the website. Next year, Avi will release his fourth album under Deutsche Grammophon, and will premiere five new pieces for the mandolin.
Image supplied. Credit: Jean-Baptise Millot/ Deutsche Grammophon.