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Barley’s Mix: From Bach to Brazilian Greats

Interview

Cellist Matthew Barley returns to Kings Place this June with a sumptuous programme inspired by Brazilian jazz greats. He tells us more…

‘On June 5th I shall be introducing a new programme, presented in a new way, at London’s newest concert hall… well, it’s 10 years since I played at the opening weekend at Kings Place, but it still makes it the newest… and one of the finest cello acoustics I know.

‘I’ve never mixed quite so much different music in one programme, or joined it all together in the same way.’

The programme is a departure for me, as I’ve never mixed quite so much different music in one programme, or joined it all together in the same way.

The basic ingredient is my arrangements of Brazilian jazz for solo cello, string ensemble and percussion: from the exquisite tenderness of Milton Nascimento’s Girassol, to the iconic Girl from Ipanema by the king of all the Brazilian musicians, Antonio Carlos Jobim, also responsible for the dreamy flow of Aguas de Marcos. Then there is the fiery fabulousness of Elis Regina (one of those tragic figures of whom there are so many in the music world who died in her early 30s of drink and drugs) and one of Caetano Veloso’s most famous songs, Cucurrucucú Paloma, featured in Almodovar’s film Talk to Her.

Brazilian music is still relatively little known here in England: melodies that compare with Schubert for sheer beauty, super-sophisticated harmonies and of course the rhythm for which Brazil is so famous. But then the programme also features Piazzolla, Philip Glass, Bach, Handel, Barber and a few other surprises… so what’s behind this crazy mix? Well, I was trying to think of the best piece I could possibly arrange for string ensemble to open a concert, and that happened to be a piece by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, called Resolution. And then I needed a piece to go near the end of the programme that would surprise the ears, in context, with its tender and profound long phrases, and that was Barber’s Adagio… and so on. I had in mind a very particular kind of emotional journey, and then looked for the pieces to map that journey. There is a huge variety – I’m sure when I was younger this kind of programming would have been laughed at, but I think we have moved on – maybe even grown up – in our approach. In many films these days the narrative is helped along by a bit of opera here, a bit of rap there, some electronica in another place, and so on, and when most people put their iTunes on shuffle, that is often the result – and I love that kind of freedom.

‘There is nothing quite like surrendering completely to the moment, and one of the foremost ingredients for that is the atmosphere in the hall, created by the public.’

In addition, as a lifelong devotee, I will be linking some of the transitions between pieces with improvisations. There is nothing quite like surrendering completely to the moment, and one of the foremost ingredients for that is the atmosphere in the hall, created by the public – it’s a magical alchemy, and you can say things from this place that you cannot say with written music (and vice versa of course). Another couple of transitions will be linked by Bach chorales from the St John Passion – breathtakingly simple and beautiful pieces around a minute long, which, a little like a sorbet in the middle of a feast, just calm things down, centre the energy and get us ready for the next step on the road. It’s very hard to describe it all in words because you get too hung up on categories… but in sound – it works!

As you can see I’m excited by this, and have assembled a group of exceptional musicians. I was looking for a new kind of player of which there are quite a handful these days – ones with brilliant technique so they can get to grips with all aspects of tricky repertoire with ease, but also adventurous ones who improvise and experiment away from the classical fold into less common musical terrain. The musician of the future.

You could put this programme together in about two days, no problem, but again, I wanted to try and push things a bit further, so we have six days to rehearse, mostly in a wonderful old house in the Cotswolds where we will eat beautiful food and have nothing to worry about except making music – I’m very grateful to Hawkwood College for making this possible. The last piece of the jigsaw is the incomparable percussionist Paul Clarvis, a favourite on the jazz scene for many years and a legendary performer and communicator from the stage.

‘We will be more than ready, with some pieces memorised, to set sail on this unique voyage.’

So we will be more than ready, with some pieces memorised, and eyes out of the parts ready to set sail on this unique voyage. All I need in addition to all of this is a full hall, so if this appeals, please do spread the word and come along – I hope you can join us!’

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