Making an Effort

To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also. – Igor Stravinsky

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2nd November – Avi Avital and the Cologne Academy

Mandolin: Avi Avital

Orchestra: The Cologne Academy Chamber Orchestra

Venue: Hong Kong City Hall, Concert Hall

Vivaldi – Concerto in F major Autumn from The Four Seasons RV 293

Bach – Violin Concerto in G minor BWV 1056 (arr. Avital)

Vivaldi – Concerto in F minor Winter from The Four Seasons RV 297

Bach – Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041 (arr. Avital)

Bloch – Nigun from Baal Shem

Bartók – Romanian Folk Dances

Falla – Danse Espagnol

Tsintsadze – Georgian Folk from Eight Miniatures Tunes

I wasn’t so sure about buying a ticket to this concert at first. However, I knew the name, Avi Avital is quite prominent at the moment- probably due to following Wigmore Hall‘s Twitter feed and hearing of his collaboration with Mahan Esfahani, the harpsichordist.  I looked at the programme and saw that it consisted of equal measures of Baroque and folk music, both of which I enjoy, so why not go and experience it?!

As the players of the Cologne Academy walked onstage, I was surprised that the ensemble was mostly women. This was quite a nice observation to make as it is usually the opposite that is seen. Avi Avital and the conductor arrived and Avital sat on a chair near the front of the stage, but unfortunately for me the conductor was standing directly in my line of view! I was at the front and just at the wrong angle, but it really is all about listening to the music! The first half was Vivaldi and Bach which I enjoyed. The second half was based on folk music. Avital was fantastic on the mandolin and the balance between orchestra and soloist was excellent.

During the second half of the concert, Avital paused to talk about the concert and the pieces noting the themes of the two halves. He talked more about the pieces in the second half of the concert including the pieces by Tsintsadze, who he said many people may not have heard of and therefore may not have heard the music before. I had looked in the programme and noticed that one of the Tsintsadze pieces was called ‘Indi Mindi’ which rang a bell with me. So when I was listening to the music I recognized several sections, especially ‘Indi Mindi’ which I was quite excited about. I realized that I had a CD – probably from BBC Music Magazine around 20 years ago that was called ‘St Petersburg Classics’. I did get to mention my familiarity to ‘Indi Mindi’ to Avital afterwards, and he asked if I was a cellist as Tsintsadze wrote music for cello, but I told him that I had heard a chorale version of it on an old CD. He did comment that it was quite rare for someone to be familiar with this piece.

A mandolin concert is probably not everyone’s first choice, but Avital really makes the instrument and the music come alive, with his playing and programme choice. I would definitely recommend anyone to see Avital in concert, whether it is classical, folk or jazz that he is performing!

Avi Avital: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


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19th July – Folk by the Oak

Folk By The Oak

Venue: Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Moore Moss Rutter

Lady Maisery

Keston Cobblers Club

Nancy Kerr and the Sweet Visitor Band

The Unthanks

Mary Chapin Carpenter


Crowds at Folk by the Oak

Crowds at Folk by the Oak

It has been a while since I went to this one day folk festival.  After my visit to London (including Folk by the Oak), I went back to Chester to pack my bags and meet with a few more friends before flying back to Hong Kong and then dropping down to Australia for a couple of weeks. I’ve been a bit busy and have now found a bit of time to blog – assisted by a dirty chai at Mr. Pilgrim’s coffee shop.

My friends in London told me about ‘Folk by the Oak’ before I went to visit them, so they said they’d bought tickets and I could join them. So I checked out the website and found that I had heard of the headliners and have over the past couple of years found an appreciation for folk music via Lau.

Hatfield House was easily accessible by car or train from London. At one end of a large field was the main stage with the smaller ‘Acorn’ stage at the side in a tent. There were lots of vendors around for food, drink, vintage clothing, T-shirts and band CDs.  We found a spot to sit at where we could see the stage and screen from afar but the sound was great so wherever you were, you could clearly and easily hear the music – well done, tech crew!

All acts were fantastic – and I enjoyed it all even though I was not so familiar with the music. I was really looking forward to seeing the Unthanks as I had seen that they are to perform with Liverpool Philharmonic in the upcoming season. The sisters’ voices were beautiful and distinctly different from each other. When they spoke you could hear the North-East accent and I believe that is where their songs originate from. They both also dance with clogs on which adds to the percussion of certain songs. As I listened to them I could easily imagine them performing with an orchestra.

My friend and I moved closer to see Mary Chapin Carpenter perform. She was fantastic, a bit more country than folk. She explained why she wrote some of her songs, made a few jokes which really added to the connection with her audience.

Finally, my friend and I packed our bags and went forward to join the standing crowd For Bellowhead. Again, I had heard of them but didn’t know their music. Unfortunately, they will be disbanding but will do one final tour in the UK so I’m glad I had the chance to see them perform live. They started with a song full of energy and had the crowd dancing immediately. They had quite a long set – most songs from their recent album. I absolutely love the ensemble including brass and strings, especially the fact that they have their bass line performed on tuba. Their main singer explained what the songs were about and the whole band had such stage presence and energy. They really do look like they have so much fun together, and it’s brilliant that we can share this experience with them as part of the audience. Again, the tech crew were on point with sound, lighting and fireworks at then end.

Bellowhead at the start of their set.

Bellowhead at the start of their set.

Both the Unthanks and Bellowhead will be playing at Philharmonic Hall – another reason to be jealous of the residents of Liverpool! I’d recommend anyone to go to their concerts!