Sunday, 20 April 2008

Professor Hovhanness I. Pilikian on Exceptional Music Concerts


The Perfect Union of Two Minds - João Luiz & Douglas Lora

Brasil Guitar Duo – Bolivar Hall, London – Friday 29 February, 2008, 7.30 pm

*

I was delighted to discover that the cultural co-operation between the Brazilian and the Venezuelan Embassies in London is continuing, and with such compassionate elegance -- something the English can learn from the South Americans! -- the handsome Brazilian Attaché dedicated the evening’s concert to the outgoing Venezuelan Lady-Attachée …



Although Guitar-like instruments have surfaced through the archeological record, the ‘modern’ Guitar seems to have emerged in Spain and as the poor people’s preferred instrument, in imitation of the Aristocracy’s viluela endowed with six double-courses (each being a pair of strings). The poor could hardly afford such extravagance of strings … so, by the mid-eighteenth century, the double-courses were made single, and a sixth was added at the top end of the five strings (reduced from the rich man’s twelve).

The Hawaiians re-invented their own steel-guitar, and played it placed across the knees … The North Americans conceived of the Electrical Guitar in the 1930s, and the American musician Les Paul made it the staple of the Pop-world by the nineteen-forties.

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), the Spanish composer saved the Guitar from its depths of proletarian depression … and turned it into a noble (‘aristocratic’) instrument of solo concerts. His passion for it as a child, seems to have been aroused by a local player known as The Blind Man of the Sea = el ciego de la Marina. Tárrega settled in Paris, then again to return finally to Barcelona in 1882, to establish a School. He developed new techniques of performance, and transcribed Handel, Mozart and Chopin for the Guitar.

But the man who created the classical Guitar was of course the great master-musician Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), recently under attack by John Williams, a considerable English musician himself, who incredibly – and I think very foolishly – called Segovia “a limited musician” (John Williams on Segovia, BBC Music Magazine, 1999). One wonders what had come over John Williams that day to utter such a monstrous nonsense.

I contend that Segovia single-handedly invented the Classical Guitar – one can almost date it precisely to 1935 – And he did it with an extraordinary instinctual intelligence by hitting on a remarkably simple musical idea – he played Bach’s Chaconne on his guitar … from that pin-prick of concentrated energy, exploded the Big Bang of the classical guitar the whole world now takes for granted.


João Luiz and Douglas Lora are a young Brazilian Guitar Duo of classical guitar mastery unequalled in their intellectual union of perfect equivalence. Every aspect of their musical skill seems to be perfectly balanced in equilateral doses – tonal texture, range of musical phraseology, range and breath of technical ability, rhythmic feeling, emotional key-ing, in a word, their individual musicality sounds (and I intend a pun) equal.

I have never encountered such a perfect union of two minds – musical twins conjoined at the heart!

Domenico Scarlatti (Sonata L305 in Sergio Abreu’s transcription for 2 guitars) was an excellent introduction to the Duo’s perfect mental and musical harmonies, which then blossomed in the 3 Preludes and Fugues (op 199) by the prolific modern composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – an Italian whose surname Tedesco means German in Italian … in 1939, fearing for his life as a Jew, he had escaped to America, where he acquired citizenship in 1946, settled in California and wrote also film-music, ten concertos, several operas, endless piano pieces, songs, and chamber music ...
Four Hands as Two

Our Brazilian Duo seem to be pioneering in recording C-Tedesco’s work – no wonder, because their conjoined musical being is perfectly born to realize the most original manifest nature of C-Tedesco’s The Well-tempered Guitars, based on treating the Two performers as One as if playing the Piano … each player represents the Right and the Left hands of the single virtual Keyboard player – Lora, mostly the melodious Right, Luiz, mostly the pulsating base line Left, occasionally alternating the musical game – four hands are truly two, and both really belong to one, playing a Baroque keyboard – for, C-Tedesco had mastered both Baroque and Piano music – a remarkable sound to experience and a sight to behold … two guitars, a keyboard hand each, Right & Left, playing polyphonic harmony rather than a single monomatrix piece, melody shifting from one to the other, while the ‘other’ stays as accompaniment … The unity of the two is vital as the breath-of-life of their musical performance – there can be no other two guitarists besides this Brazilian Duo capable of such a feat perfectly suited for Tedesco’s music.


Piazzolla’s Pioneering Argentinean Music

Complicated musical disruptions in the programme began predictably with the great Astor Piazzolla’s music (Zita) – he of the fame that introduced complex Western classical music harmonies into the Argentinean Tango, and succeeded brilliantly transforming both.

Piazzolla was a mere accordion player – the large kind called bandoneon in Argentina. The Tango was the only music Piazzola knew as a child, before he studied with Alberto Evaristo Ginastra, an Argentine Composer who had moved to Geneva in 1971, and whose Malambo seems to me to have been heavily influenced by the Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-78) – the latter’s Saber Dance from the Ballet Gayaneh (1942) was an iconic world-wide hit during my own youth – everyone on the planet then seemed to have heard it, or of it …


But Piazzolla’s greatest good fortune was studying Composition with Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) in Paris. This lady was a remarkable woman – a conductor who pioneered the revival of Monteverdi’s music, becoming the first woman-Musician ever to conduct (between 1937-9) full concerts with the London Royal Philharmonic Society, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic – someone (a woman-Conductor I mean) still extremely rare in the concert halls of the world.


What’s more, Boulanger possessed the uniquely non-racist approach to ethnic/national music – she encouraged all her multi-ethnic students to think of their own musical roots as the Music they must explore and re-invent, instead of imitating the language and idioms of the European classical harmonies.

Not understanding properly Boulanger’s pioneering non-racist concept of musical composition, leads euro-centric musicologists to misrepresent the extraordinary oeuvre of someone like Piazzolla by insisting that he married the very limited medium of the Argentinean tango with complex European forms.

The truth is otherwise – following Nadia Boulanger’s wise advice, the Tango was all the music Piazzolla wanted to write, and his intensely original transformation of the Tango was all music!

His tango sinfónico (= symphonic tango) was not a new musical genre as Western musicologists would like to think, but the very “contemporary music of Buenos Aires” itself, as Piazzolla himself said and thought of it.

The second part of the Guitar concert (after Intermission) was dedicated to Brazilian music. Brazilians, like all South Americans and other nations economically and culturally marginalized hitherto by Western imperialism (including my own Armenian people, Jews, Arabs, Turks, Indians …) are understandably culturally too self-righteous and unduly sensitive, making life extremely difficult for well-meant constructive criticism and democratic free speech.

The Catholic religiosity of the South American masses, with the Pope’s infallibility as an imitable paradigm, re-affirms this kind of ultra-nationalist nonsense. They want to be either loved or hated, nothing in between – even if you were to praise them ninety-nine percent, they get hugely massively hurt by one percent of disagreement as offensive criticism – enough to never speak to you again ...

I am reminded of the Narrator of the great Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis’ (1839-1908) masterpiece Dom Casmurro – the very first words of the novel describe the hilarious incident whereby a civilized high-powered “young man” sits next to him on the train to a suburb of Rio de Janeiro – this very polite young man tells our Narrator of his “ministerial comings and goings, and ended up reciting some of his verses.” All nice and very well … until our otherwise tired Narrator cannot help nodding off … The “Next day, he started calling me insulting names, and ended up nicknaming me Dom Casmurro”, which of course means Mr. Grumpy – the title of Machado’s Novel. (*)

Risking such, I shall say that Edu Lobo’s Valsa Brasileira (arranged for 2 guitars by J. Luiz, one of the Duo) was anything but a recognizable waltz (in the traditional genre of a Blue Danube …), equally the case of D. Lora’s (the other one of the Duo) Valsa, otherwise a very pleasant dainty composition dedicated to his daughter. Those two examples of a Brazilian ‘waltz’ leads me to surmise that perhaps after all a Brazilian-waltz is not a … Waltz, but just a formal excuse for some nice music-making.


I must also disagree with the Duo’s extreme enthusiasm and pride in the works of Paulo Bellinati (Bom Partido – a samba that did not sound like one …) and Jacob do Bandolim (Doce de Coco = coconut candy; arr. For 2 guitars by J. Luiz), the only interesting originality of which was its sudden abrupt ending!

The works of both composers as played by the Duo are no more than interesting warm-up exercises with skillful counterpoint in … presto moderato.

Gismonti – a Brazilian Gem


What I found most absorbing in the Brazilian second half of the concert was Egberto Gismonti’s extraordinary 7 Anéis = 7 rings (arr. for 2 guitars by J. Luiz), in G Flat – a hell of a job to reproduce on Guitar – accomplished by the Duo with seamless efficiency.


Gismonti’s said work begins very mundanely though pleasantly … suddenly, a strange few bars of what could only be described as … rain-drops in a rainforest, contrapuntally powerful enough to disturb the flow of the musical stream …

And the music is instantly transformed into an Amazonian landscape – the Amazon meandering through dark and dank forests, with little-seeming but significant harmonic interferences here and there – perhaps a monkey jumping through the trees – a snake appearing and quickly disappearing into the undergrowth, a huge flower blossoming for the first time in a decade … all happening on the shores of the huge river running in ostinato (repeating patterns) to the sea … a most original narrative scene I am certain unintended by a quirky musical genius of Brazilian music.

If nothing else, the revelation of Gismonti’s genius in this concert was a prize worth waiting for, offered by this joyous young Duo leading the creative life of a couple in honeymoon.


Dialectical Musical Divorce

I cannot wait for them to age and mature and … start bickering musically speaking, attempting to divorce – Marital Divorce in my books is always wrong if children are involved in the equation.


However, in musical terms, tense contrapuntal dialectical harmonies (marital feuds) and their nuptial resolution (unlike in life …) constitute the dynamic soul of any music in any national culture - Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) a-tonal creations while intellctually interesting are melodic disasters proving the point!


This guitar Duo may not want to, but could and I think must eventually expand its musical repertoire on the basis of enhanced individuality – not the two hands of the same person, but the skillful hands of two persons immensely talented.


The conjoined twins can be separated musically at the heart (though not in life of course – and art is definitely not life) but nevertheless stay simultaneously conjoined … in their minds.

Endnote


(*) vide, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro, translated from the Portuguese by John Gledson, with a Foreword by John Gledson, and an Afterword by João Adolfo Hansen, Oxford University Press paperback, New York, 1998, p. 3.

In a pioneering paper titled Society and Ethics in Machado de Assis’s Rio de Janeiro and Charles Dickens’s London, read at the Brazilian Embassy in London (during the week of 18-22 June, 2007, celebrating the œuvre of Machado de Assis), the authoress Ms Nadia Kerecuk provides enough interesting material to make it the subject of a book.


And I am glad it has not occurred to Ms Kerecuk to call Machado the ‘Charles Dickens of the Brazilian literature’, as I think Machado possesses a certain stylistic sophistication of form and content matched only by Cervantes.

I myself have no hesitation in labelling Machado ‘the Cervantes of the Brazilian Literature’.

The received wisdom of the dictionary-meanings of the word casmurro are ones that quote Machado’s own title as … evidence; Grumpy, ratty, angry, bitter, unpleasant, a sour-puss really!


However, I think there is a complex subtle Machado-esque pun on casa=house, and muro=wall, producing House-wall, the equivalent in English of the insulting expression of a ‘Brick-wall’!


I would translate Machado’s title of the novel (Dom Casmurro) as Mr. Brick-wall.


2 comments:

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