Avi Avital plays a mandolin. But he doesn’t ply bluegrass. Indeed, much like the Punch Brothers covering Debussy, Avital uses the mandolin to play more classical type of music. He is the first mandolinist to be nominated for a Grammy in the Best Instrumental Soloist category.
He has had this mandolin for about thirteen years and he loves it. He has been using the same Israel lutier since he was 17, exchanging them until he found this one. And he can really play the heck out of it.
He plays only two songs in the ten minute concert, but they really showcase his skills.
“Nigun” was written by Ernest Bloch in 1923 for violin and piano. NPR says Avital’s arrangement, like the original, pivots between the ecstatic and the introspective, rising in intensity (and pitch) until finally disappearing in a mist of quietly plucked notes. If you think of the mandolin as just strumming along to pop songs, you’ll be blown away by this. He plays notes that I suspect were never meant to be played…sliding all the way down to the highest high notes on the highest strings. I don’t know that it sounds better than a violin, but it is pretty neat.
“Bucimis” is a raucous Bulgarian folk tune in the odd meter of 15/16. “It’s almost 4/4, but not quite,” he says. “I can play it, but I can’t dance it.” This song is absolutely wild, especially at the end. While the first song was pretty, this song showcases just what you can do with a mandolin. It’s intense.
[READ: June 19, 2013] Julia’s House for Lost Creatures
I don’t normally write about kids picture books (if I did my whole blog would be about them as we read so many). But this one gets a special mention because a) it was published by First Second and b) I love Ben Hatke’s drawing style so much.
This is a delightful story which you have to start on the title page. It shows a giant turtle with a huge house on its back. And on the next page the text says “Julia’s house came to town.”
Julia puts in a mailbox and settles in by the sea.
But it is too quiet so she puts up the sign Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. And soon enough the creatures start coming and Hatke’s illustrations are fantastic. His drawing style is so great. The creatures have simple white eyes with no pupils, but while they are otherworldly they are not spooky.
There’s a troll and a mermaid and a ghost and a dragon and goblins and cute foletti (who are all beard and a giant nose). And Julia is adorable, with just a few dots for eyes and a line for a smile.
It’s a cute story with some very funny (and surprising) moments. I look forward to anything that Hatke does (his new book Nobody Likes a Goblin is due in June).