Stringed Along

Avi Avital is charting new ground as a classical mandolinist

”Germany in general, and specifically Berlin, is a very, very open and diverse place now – a very creative place,” says classical musician Avi Avital, who moved to the German capital three years ago. An Israeli, Avital had qualms about living in the long-ago Nazi home, but he’s thrilled to be part of what he considers its current artistic renaissance – not to mention what is now ”a huge Jewish community.”

”I think people in 50 years will look back on this time in Berlin and will really appreciate the artistic boom that is happening right now,” he says.

Avi Avital

Avi Avital

(Photo by Uwe Arens)

Chances are, they’ll also look back and appreciate what Avital is doing. ”What I really love about being a [classical] mandolin player is, there is no past,” he says. ”I’m walking on a path that I’m inventing every day for myself.

”The mandolin is not a common instrument anywhere I guess, but especially not in the context of classical music.” And yet, growing up in southern Israel, the mandolin was nearly as common to Avital as the violin. A neighbor in his family’s apartment building was an avid mandolinist, and his hometown of Beersheba has a popular mandolin youth orchestra.

Still, Avital only studied with one classical mandolin teacher, in Italy. His other teachers were technically violinists. There are also very few other classical mandolin players. Avital is hoping to help change that reality in part by commissioning composers to write for the mandolin. ”That’s the thing in the classical world that the mandolin lacks, an original repertoire,” he says.

On Wednesday, June 13, the Washington Performing Arts Society presents a concert by Avital performing several classical mandolin pieces, including the most famous mandolin suite by Vivaldi. The highlight, though, is his new arrangements for mandolin of two Bach concerti originally for harpsichord. The concerti are also featured on Avital’s new album, his debut on the storied classical label Deutsche Grammaphon. ‘

Avi Avital performs Wednesday, June 13, at 8 p.m., at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW. Tickets are $15. Call 202-408-3100 or visit sixthandi.org or wpas.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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