Avi Avital is among a growing group of young musicians blurring the lines of classical music, notably with his new recording, “Between Worlds.”
This is the second album from the 35-year-old Israeli mandolinist, who garnered a Grammy nomination with his debut album of self-transcribed Bach concertos in 2012.
He goes deep into exploration mode on "Between Worlds," with music from Bulgaria, South America, Spain, Greece, Italy and Russia.
He’s gathered some of his favorite musicians for his new collection, including Argentine-born Israeli clarinetist Giora Feidman, credited with helping to keep klezmer music alive after World War II and bringing it into the concert hall.
Israeli percussionist Itamar Doari and French accordion player Richard Galliano also join him in works that move your feet from Georgia’s foremost 20th century composer, Sulkhan Zsintsadze.
Most delightful are the unusual treatments of classical works like Manuel de Falla’s “Six Popular Spanish Dances” and Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” recorded with the crack Potsdam Chamber Orchestra. How appropriate that he includes Bartok, the great preserver of Hungarian and Romanian folk tunes. And out of the blue, Avital ends it with a traditional Welsh tune, “Hen Ferchetan,” with harpist Catrin Finch.
To Avital, there is no real line between classical and folk or popular music. “The mandolin has a mixed identity… that was my starting point,” he said recently.
Indeed, the mandolin straddles many fences, a member of the lute family going back at least 15,000 years across Eurasia and beyond.
In the United States, we think of it foremost as a bluegrass instrument, a genre from which another prominent mandolin wiz has recently crossed over into classical, Chris Thile. Thile topped the charts last year with a recording of his own solo Bach transcriptions for mandolin. (Transcribing Bach, by the way, is an honorable rite of passage for pluckers – guitar, lute, and the increasingly trendy mandolin.).
Avital was hooked on the instrument as a boy. He began playing at 8 and joined his town’s mandolin orchestra, which had 30 or 40 players at times, when he was 10.
Avital appeared in Denver last January for the regional premiere of Viktor Ullmann’s opera, "Der Kaiser von Atlantis," a joint production of Central City Opera, the Colorado Symphony, the Newman Center and the Mizel Arts and Culture Center. Another Colorado appearance in 2014 would certainly not be too soon.
Here's a video on the making of Avital's new release:
Listen for tracks from "Between Worlds" this week on CPR Classical.