If you have spent any time listening to Bluegrass music then you are more than familiar with the mandolin. After all, didn’t the mandolin virtuoso Bill Monroe virtually invent this traditional genre? As I pointed out in a previous blog entry, there are other ways to
play mandolin besides Bluegrass and a perusal of the Brazilian Choro Bandolin tradition is a profitable investment in time. Even a casual investigation of the Bluegrass and Choro traditions will eventually lead one back to the mother lode of mandolin performances – the European classical tradition. As I mentioned in the previous blog, in part, the North American and Brazilian mandolins traditions can be traced back to the mostly Neapolitan roots. In the seventeen hundreds there was nothing more Italian or Neapolitan than the city of Venice and the music of Vivaldi. Some of the most popular mandolin pieces in the classical repertoire are the Vivaldi concertos. The attached performance is the Antonio Vivaldi – Concerto for 2 Mandolins and Orchestra (RV532) by Het CONSORT (a well known Dutch Mandolin Chamber Orchestra).
From the north American perspective the interesting things about the mandolins in this video are that the instruments are round back and very small. The other thing of note is the style of pick used. New World (USA and Brazil) mandolin players tend to use short, thick stiff plectrums. The performers in the Vivaldi orchestra all use thin quill like plectrums almost identical to the reesha, a pick used by Middle Eastern musicians to play the Oud. I don’t know what advantages that would offer. Maybe it is just a question of quality of sound. North American mandolin players favor a very percussion string attack and that maybe generates a sound out of favor in the classical tradition.
Below is another Vivaldi performance this time by the Israeli musician Avi Avital who is the first mandolin player to receive a GRAMMY nomination in the category “Best Instrumental Soloist” (2010) for his recording of Avner Dorman’s Mandolin Concerto (Metropolis Ensemble / Andrew Cyr). He has won numerous competitions and awards including Germany’s ECHO Prize for his 2008 recording with the David Orlowsky Trio and the AVIV Competition (2007), the preeminent national competition for Israeli soloists. He plays an unusual looking instrument built by the Israeli Luthier Avi Kerman. The instrument has been described as a double topped instrument with a convex back. It is in essence two mandolins – one inside the other.
The compositions are so similar one wonders if the solo concerto is just a re-orchestration of the duo.
For mandolin music this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many, many more Mandolin videos on YouTube. There are lots of performances to explore….. viva YouTube