Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
Avi Avital — The Art of the Mandolin (Deutsche Grammophon)
"On the first day of lockdown our dishwasher broke. It was like a bad joke," mandolinist Avi Avital said. "It was just so miserable washing dishes, and I had my concert canceled. Just after two weeks, I had enough. I looked at the dishwasher, and I couldn't take it anymore.
"I discovered a little button that says, 'Reset.' I pressed it, and it worked again. From that moment, I felt as if I pressed the reset button on myself, as well."
That reset button allowed him to focus on meeting the deadline for the release of his latest recording, Art of the Mandolin.
Why is this the first time you've created an album of compositions for mandolin?
"I decided to revisit the origins of the instrument that I have essentially been playing most of my life and to really look at it through the lenses of composers. When some of the composers sat in their studio and wrote for the mandolin, what did they think of? How do they look at it? What did it symbolize to them? That was the thing that was really interesting for me to discover."
Could you tell us about Beethoven's Adagio ma non troppo?
"I think he was 22 years old when he wrote this piece, and he wrote it with the following dedication: 'Pour la belle, for the beautiful J.C. from L.V.B.' The 'J.C.' was a young countess that played the mandolin. I think he loved her. And I don't think it worked out for him, because as usual with Beethoven, he ended up with a broken heart; we ended up with great music. And that's how it usually worked for him."
Rather than harpsichord, you're pairing mandolin with harp on the Beethoven, and we hear it in other pieces on this recording.
"First of all, these two instruments are from the same family. These are the plucked-string instruments. … To my surprise, when I finished the list of pieces for the album, I realized that most of them, except Vivaldi, involve all the other plucked-string instruments."
How does the Hans-Werner Henze piece, Carillon, explore the full potential of the mandolin?
"I believe that Henze really tried to explore what would be the equivalent of a chamber music format consisting of the plucked-string family. He decided to write a piece Carillon, or 'a music box.' When I played it, I imagined walking through a toy shop."
You commissioned two world premieres for this recording. One, David Bruce's Death Is a Friend of Ours, is very exciting, but we don't hear death in this piece. Why is that?
"It was very funny because I commissioned Bruce for the grand finale of a concert, and I thought I wanted all plucked strings of the Western classical tradition to play together.
"Then after several months, he sent me the score. It said Death Is a Friend of Ours, and I said, 'Oh, no, I mean, I planned for a grand finale and this title must be a depressive piece.' I was really afraid it was not going to work, but, of course, I opened the file and started reading the score. It's jolly, it's happy, and it's absolutely the grand finale."
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.