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Avi Avital’s Vivaldi Brings the High Renaissance to Downtown

Ed Rampell: Pleasing to the ears, it was difficult to discern exactly what Vivaldi was driving at with these instrumental diversions.
Avi Avital

THE FOUR SEASONS Opera Review: From Venice’s Grand Canal to L.A.’s Grand Avenue

[su_dropcap style="simple" size="5"]A[/su_dropcap]ttending the plucky Avi Avital’s rapturous rendition of Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s 1725 “The Four Seasons” was my first time hearing Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and being inside of Zipper Concert Hall at 200 S. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. The 406 seat, wood-lined sonic sanctuary features large, disc-like lights floating over the stage, resembling flying saucers. This was apropos for at times the music emanating from LACO and its guest soloist had an ethereal, unearthly character.

But before Avital took the stage, lengthy announcements were made lauding the late patron of the arts Hanna M. Kennedy, then two Vivaldi Concertos for Two Violins - one in G minor, the other in A minor - were played. The former featured violinists Josefina Vergara and Sarah Thornblade, while in the latter Margaret Batjer and Tereza Stanislav engaged in spirited string slinging, dueling with one another. Both Vivaldi concertos, which took about nine minutes and then thirteen minutes to complete, were expertly executed. Actually eyeballing the bow slingers Batjer and Stanislav face off against one another was fun and interesting to observe.

Pleasing to the ears, it was difficult to discern exactly what Vivaldi was driving at with these instrumental diversions.

Pleasing to the ears, it was difficult to discern exactly what Vivaldi was driving at with these instrumental diversions. On the other hand, as Avital noted when he joined the ensemble of 16 black clad musicians, “‘The Four Seasons’ is a programmatic piece.” Covering and expressing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter Avital added that Vivaldi evoked Venice’s “winds, mosquitoes and with the viola a dog’s bark.” (Unfortunately, the way things are going with global warming some future Vivaldi may compose a set of concertos called “The One Season.”)

After his intro Avital ensconced himself upon a well-padded stool and led LACO in his own arrangement of Vivaldi’s masterpiece, repurposing “The Four Seasons” for Avi’s instrument of choice, instead of the violin, which Vivaldi had originally composed his beloved eighth opus for. Building up to his December appearances at the Zipper and St. Monica’s Catholic Church as part of LACO’s “Baroque Conversations” series that will continue into 2019, Avital was ballyhooed as a “mandolin virtuoso” by KUSC, L.A.’s all-classical radio station (91.5 FM). LACO’s program notes point out that Avi’s: “The first mandolin soloist… nominated for a classical Grammy,” and is “A Deutsche Grammophon artist” who has already debuted at Carnegie Hall.

I’m delighted to report that the youthful Israeli from the Negev Desert outpost of Be’er Sheva lived up to his billing - and then some. His strumming soared to the rafters, enhancing Vivaldi’s compositions with a new sound emanating from his mandolin. The 45 minute or so performance was marked by ebullient aural outbursts, as Avital’s plucked pyrotechnics were at times accompanied by his impassioned movements onstage. It was Avi unzipped at the Zipper as the mandolinist decided to go for baroque.

Avital’s vitality was jaw dropping. The shaggy-haired musician called to mind the live playing of Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull’s very physical flautist and suggested a sort of Pete Townshend of classical music - I wondered if Avi would smash his wooden mandolin on the boards for his grand finale? (On his “Between Worlds” album cover Avital is leaping while playing his Arik Kerman a la The Who’s lead guitarist.) Of course, this energetic playing is in keeping with the spirit of the “Red Priest’s” oeuvre.

Accompanied by his team of LACO violin, viola, bass and cello players, plus harpsichordist Patricia Mabee, the mandolinist rendered stirring sounds and mellifluous melodic music creating cosmic consciousness. At times there was a pervading sense of the oneness of the musician- composer- composition-instrument-audience. From time-to-time, listening to the work I experienced that fleeting sensory sensation of simply being glad to be alive. It’s an enraptured sensibility works of art rarely impart to me: Some of Mozart’s operas have generate this feeling, as did the joyous 2008 movie Me and Orson Welles with Zac Efron and Claire Danes. And when I saw Monty Python’s Spamalot on Broadway, while I was laughing my noggin off the thought coursed through my mind that I was truly happy to be alive, even if only to be able to witness such truly inspired insanity.

Avital and company’s Le Quattro stagioni may not have made me laugh uproariously, but full of joie de vivre I did smile a lot and some tears even welled up in my eyes now and again. Man oh man oh mandolin! At times it was as if through Avi and the other magnificent musicians’ playing one could hear the voice of god. For a moment I thought those overhead otherworldly lights were UFOs coming to transport me away (okay, so now I’m exaggerating, but you get the point, Dear Reader).

After the final strains of the Allegro in Vivaldi’s “Winter” followed by audience ovations, Avital returned to the Zipper’s stage to pluck an encore, wielding his trusty pick on the wooden Arik Kerman’s four courses of doubled metal strings. For his solo encore Avital played a Bulgarian folksong he’d written his own arrangement for and improvised over it. To this reviewer’s untutored ears it sounded a bit like a cross between Segovia and Kentucky Bluegrass music.

Although I’ve never written of him before, there is actually another Edward Rampell, living in the Sunshine State. Interestingly, my 99 year old cousin is also a writer. But unlike moi, Florida’s Ed has musical talent and the instrument my cousin played was none other than the mandolin. In 1987 he even participated in the First Annual Convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America. During the “Avi Avital and The Four Seasons” concert at the Zipper, my thoughts turned fondly toward my cousin who turns 100 next year - Vivaldi willing.

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In any case, this joyous aural outpouring may have been my first exposure to LACO - but I’m absolutely positive it won’t be my last. Viva Vivaldi, Avital and LACO!

Upcoming Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performances include:

BAROQUE CONVERSATIONS 3

“Monica Huggett Leads Bohemian Trumpets”

Thursday, February 7, 2019, 7:30 pm, Zipper Concert Hall
Friday, February 8, 2019, 7:30 pm, First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica

BAROQUE CONVERSATIONS 4

“Matthew Halls Conducts Bach”

ed rampell

Thursday, May 9, 2019, 7:30 pm, Zipper Concert Hall

For more info see: https://www.laco.org/. For mandolinist info see: https://www.aviavital.com/.

Ed Rampell

L.A.-based reviewer/historian Ed Rampell is co-presenting a screening of Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” 7:00 p.m., Dec. 27 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”co-authored by Rampell is now available at: https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/