Friday, February 15, 2008

The 21st Century with Gilles Apap (Review)

You know something remarkable has happened when the most conventional music of the night was the Bartok.

So it was last night at the University of Waterloo Humanities Theatre when violinist Gilles Apap played with Edwin Outwater and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. This was part of the symphony's Intersection series, which bills itself as exploring "the points where classical music meets other kinds of music and art: rock, jazz, folk, ethnomusicology, literature, and theatre. Each concert is focused on a dynamic artist that bridges the gap between classical and another art form."

Apap is a gifted classical violinist who also plays fiddle and world violin music. He is known for having musical digressions in the middle of classical pieces. These digressions include whistling, humming, singing, playing other tunes, veering off into other types of music... well, see for yourself:

Apap gave us a demonstration of his approach, playing a couple of bars of Mozart and then playing them again but with his bow held slightly differently, making them sound like an Irish reel. He does a lot of interesting things with his bow like bop the bow on the strings. His fingering includes a slide thing that creates an East Indian sound. And he has this way of wringing the last bit of sound out of a note.

The innovative bits are not all that defines Apap, though. He has a very interesting style. If some virtuoso violinists are aggressively flashy, Apap's the opposite: his style is laid back, effortless, organic. Unfortunately, last night he also sounded a little sloppy at a couple of points, but mostly his music was lovely.

For much of the concert Outwater let Apap lead the orchestra. (For parts, Outwater played double bass.) I was fascinated by how Apap led the other musicians: at times, they seemed to be playing refrains after him; at times the strings played backup rhythm; at times they seemed to be playing the bits of Mozart that Apap had just played; and at times it appeared to be a jam session.

The concert, which ranged from Bach to Bruch to Sarasate and Bartok, focused on Mozart's fourth concerto in D major and also featured a bunch of Apap's folk music, the best of which were some pieces he said he "learned from a Romanian guy." It was all very entertaining, but I wish he had explained the motivation behind his riffing: the musical digression didn't connect to the Mozart piece as I had expected. Was there any connection, or is he just bored with Mozart?


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