Classic Mornings

Avi “All Vivaldi” Avital


There’s something just as much fun as trying to say that line several times quickly. It’s listening to mandolinist Avi Avital playing music by Antonio Vivaldi--music written for the mandolin and music arranged for the instrument. You can tell he’s having a good time. It’s catchy too.

We were introduced to Avital with his recording of Bach’s music a few years ago. His new recording is with the Venice Baroque Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon 4794017). It’s actually titled: Avi Avital – Vivaldi, but the combination of names invites so much more wordplay.  On the recording, Avital is featured in several concertos and a trio, joined in the trio by special guests including the Iranian-American champion of the harpsichord: Mahan Esfanahi. It arrived just in time for Vivaldi’s birthday, which marched forth earlier in the month (on March 4). Avital is from Israel, though not Tel Aviv. So we can’t say: Tel Aviv Avi “All Vivaldi” Avital.

Avi Avital’s Vivaldi recording wasn’t the only one to arrive recently. We were introduced to the ensemble L’Arte dell’Arco from Padua with a recording of the concertos known collectively as L’Estro armonico. The ensemble’s concertmaster Federico Guglielmo is the soloist in the concertos for violin and orchestra. He’s joined by other members of the group in concertos for 2 and 4 violins (Brilliant Classics 94629).

Bobby McFerrin’s 65th birthday came a week after Vivaldi’s. We celebrated with Vivaldi’s music--from recordings that have been a part of the Friends of WILL Library for years. McFerrin doesn’t play a mandolin. He is a mandolin, when he wants to be. He can be a cello too. We heard him featured with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in an arrangement of the slow movement or section of a Vivaldi concerto for 2 mandolins (Sony 48177). McFerrin sings his part. Then we heard him conducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra singing one of the 2 cello parts of a Vivaldi concerto for 2 cellos along with cellist Peter Howard (Sony 64600). Vivaldi, who gave song-like parts to solo instruments in his concertos and reworked instrumental tunes for use in his operas and sacred works, might have been thrilled to have Bobby McFerrin around in his time.

McFerrin is the son of Robert McFerrin, the first African American to have sung at the Metropolitan Opera. Bobby McFerrin, who has been active in a number of musical genres over the decades, spent 4 years as the Creative Chair of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1984-1988. At his website, he shares some interesting ideas about conducting. He recalls that he first had the chance to conduct on his 40th birthday, the preparation for which terrified him. He said he was keeping tempos more like a traffic cop. He has come to view conducting as singing with the body and trying to get the orchestra to sing--or dancing, not in response to music, but in the hope of getting the orchestra to respond with music.

Erich Kunzel sometimes sang and clapped along with the audience as a conductor, and certainly had lots of folks joining in at pops concerts over the years. We remembered Kunzel, who was called the “Prince of Pops” by the Chicago Tribune, on the Classic Morning Prelude of March 20--the eve of what would have been his 80th birthday and the 330th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach. Perhaps just the mention of Kunzel’s name brings to mind warm weather and thoughts about outdoor concerts and summer festivals.  It’s funny, though, that Kunzel was given the assigment to begin a winter pops series when he arrived in Cincinnati as an assistant conductor back in 1965. It snowballed, you might say. As a result, music listeners can enjoy the 116 CDs he made with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra year round.

Sviatoslav Richter’s playing was captured more than a few times in recordings. That seems a more appropriate way of recalling what otherwise sounds like a remnant of the Cold War. The story is told that he performed surrounded by microphones hidden in potted palms or among vases of flowers. It’s not what you think. Jacques Leiser, a one time stage manager for the legendary pianist, was quoted by Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times back in August, 1997. Leiser said that Richter found studio recording unnatural and high-pressured. Even onstage, he insisted that he not be able to see the microphones. So, call it a rich recording legacy or one heck of a lot of eavesdropping. Richter’s recordings made their way to far corners of the world, even when he wasn’t permitted to leave the Soviet Union. We celebrated the centennial of the birth of the Ukrainian-born pianist on March 20. Richter made his American debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1960. We heard him featured in a legendary recording with violinist David Oistrrakh, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and the Berlin Philharmonic led by Herbert von Karajan in the finale of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. The performance took place on this side of the Berlin Wall back in 1969. Richter died in 1997.

With all those big anniversaries, I’m no less excited about the 5th anniversary of Classic Mornings, coming up on April 1. Please join me--even before next Wednesday--weekday mornings from 9-noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude just before at 8:50 on FM 90.9 or online at