BY CAROL SAFFER
Nature or nurture? Genetic or environment? Virtuoso guitarist Matthew Fagan believes “it is definitely in the genes”.
When Gypsy Fire duo – Matthew Fagan and Czech violinist Romana Geermans – performs its Ancestry concert on 10 December, the audience “will be hearing where we come from”.
Gypsy Fire’s inspiration for Ancestry is the immigration of Matthew’s family in the 1890s, and the family story behind Romana’s arrival in Australia in 1991.
The duo itself was formed through a chance encounter at Sandringham Library: Matthew’s mother Noela was a librarian. Romana’s husband Peter asked her for a book on French violinist Stephane Grappelli.
Noela mentioned, “I’ve got a son who plays guitar”. Peter replied, “oh, my wife plays violin.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Matthew’s maternal great-grandfather Albert Parkes – a violinist, musician, and teacher – emigrated from London with his three sons Cecil, Kingsley, and Milton. Cecil (Matthew’s great uncle) was a child prodigy violinist who toured with Dame Nellie Melba. Great uncle Kingsley made his concert debut aged nine. Milton – Matthew’s grandfather, a celebrated concert pianist – died aged 28.
Collectively, the Parkes family had a profound effect on the Australian musical scene in the decades from 1900 to 1940.
Romana Geermans also hails from a musical family, having been first taught by her violinist father Arnost Mazalnova until the age of 10. Her stepfather Frantisek Domazlicky was an amateur musician, composer, and band leader in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s playing violin, trumpet, and accordion.
During World War II Frantisek, while imprisoned in a number of concentration camps from Terezin (Theresienstadt) to Auschwitz, continued to compose. After liberation, Frantisek completed his musical education at the Prague Academy of Arts and Music, where he graduated in violin under Frantisek Daniel in 1955. When he retired, he focused on composing, writing 180 pieces.
It is Matthew and Romana’s ancestors that are being honoured in the performance. There is an underlying concept of immigration and the resilience of people coming to a new country.
The concert’s repertoire will feature performing some of Cecil Parkes favourite pieces together with a number of Frantisek Domazlicky’s compositions, in particular his Songs without words composed during his internment at Terezin.
Included also in the performance will be a selection of Gypsy Fire favourites featuring Matthew’s Celtic and flamenco-inspired compositions, and music from jazz masters Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
While researching the family tree, Cecil’s granddaughter Catherine discovered film footage of Cecil performing in the 1930s. This film will be shown during the recital.
Gypsy Fire presents Ancestry as a concert paying homage to the musicians and composers in both Matthew and Romana’s families. It explores how people are knowingly and unknowingly shaped by ancestral stories, how emigration and aspiration for a richer life are just as relevant today as when ancestors came to Australia.
Gypsy Fire is not just looking to create a connection through the music. Matthew hopes the audience will remember what they heard and reflect on what is it about their own forebears that influences their lives.
Matthew describes Ancestry as “a desire for reflection and a celebration of family origins and heritage”.
See Ancestry at 2pm, December 10 at Temple Beth Israel, 76 Alma Rd, St Kilda.
Image supplied. Credit: Mark Russell.