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Avi Avital, Kinan Azmeh, and The Knights

Avi Avital, Kinan Azmeh, and The Knights

A melding of master musicians

by Sandor Slomovits

From the November, 2017 issue

The optics are very good: an Israeli mandolinist, a Syrian composer and clarinetist, and a Brooklyn orchestra all making music together. When was the last time the political representatives of those three countries were in harmony with each other? But the joint UMS concert of Avi Avital, Kinan Azmeh, and The Knights will not be a political event. It's a melding of master musicians collaborating to create spectacular music. While they all were raised and trained in disparate countries and cultures, they communicate fluently in the universal language of music.

Avital, one of the few true virtuosos of the classical mandolin, not only excels in the myriad techniques of his instrument but is an insightful interpreter of Baroque and Romantic composers--a number of whom wrote specifically for the mandolin--as well as a powerful improviser in jazz and traditional folk genres. He has also been known, on occasion, to break into R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion."

Azmeh composes for solo clarinet, chamber ensembles, orchestras, and films. He sometimes uses electronic devices to enhance his playing and collaborates with visual artists to create multimedia works with live illustration. He's played the clarinet with orchestras all over the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East, and is a member of Yo-Yo Ma's elite, diverse, and eclectic Silk Road Ensemble.

In performance, Avital and Azmeh have much in common, but they are also a study in contrasts. Avital plays sitting down, cradles his instrument against his chest, fingers flitting over the fingerboard, faultlessly negotiating the impossibly tight spaces between frets, coaxing out the intricate ornamentations of Baroque music. His right hand moves at hummingbird-wing speeds to create long sustained-note tremolos and, by manipulating the angle of his pick, a wider range of dynamics and tone colors than you would expect from a mandolin.

Azmeh stands to play and sways, arches, and bends like the notes undulating from his instrument. Although he is clearly capable of speedy passages, he tends to favor slow, soulful, otherworldly phrases. He

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usually walks through the audience at least once in his concerts.

At Rackham Auditorium November 12, Avital and Azmeh will be joined by The Knights, a Brooklyn-based orchestral ensemble dedicated to transforming audiences' experiences of classical music by offering concerts that range, as this one will, from Bach, Purcell, and Schubert to Azmeh's triple Concertino for Clarinet, Mandolin, and Violin--which they commissioned expressly for this tour--plus an extended medley of traditional Middle Eastern, Balkan, and klezmer music.

When this unique collective of musicians comes to town, the optics will be very good--and the sonics are bound to be astounding.     (end of article)

[Originally published in November, 2017.]


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