Archive for Carloa del Pino

The Amazing Carlos del Pino Plays Paganini

Posted in Music Reviews, The Art of Carlos del Pino with tags , , , on December 31, 2017 by playthell
The Virtuoso Contemplates the  Score

A Classically Cuban Concert for the Ages

It is no exaggeration to say that every time the virtuoso Bassist Carlos del Pino and his quartet – the pianist and violinist he has played with for years and are so tight they appear to read each others minds – performs in concert it is a history making event.  This was certainly true of the recent concert held at the elegant Christ and St. Stephens Church on the Upper West side, sponsored by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council of the Arts.

The eclectic programs performed by this quartet are made possible by the extraordinary musicians in the band, whose virtuosity span three major musical genres encompassing the most complex in the western tradition – European Classical, Classic Jazz and the Afro-Cuban Son Montuno.  On this occasion the quartet played a program of mostly Cuban composers, hence the title “Classically Cuban.”

However, the unequalled performance by Carlos del Pino of Niccolo Paganini’s solo violin compositions stole the show. Carlos’ comments on his aspirations as an instrumentalist provides us a glimpse of the twin ambitions that fuel his pathbreaking artistry. First, like all greats in any field, he is constantly trying to get better.  “Through time,” says Carlos, “man has always taken on goals and challenges to improve himself.  Music has been no exception.” And secondly, he seeks to expand the range of the double bass violin.  He tells us: “Due to its large size, the doubled bass has posed a challenge for musicians who wish to interpret works composed for other instruments.”

Since he is on a mission to prove the contra-bass is capable of performing compositions conceived for the lead violin, Carlos chooses some of the most difficult literature to perform. For instance, Paganini’s 24th Caprice is considered by violinists to be one of the most difficult pieces to perform ever written for solo violin. The performer must successfully negotiate such obstacles as Parallel octaves and rapid shifting covering several intervals. Plus, extremely fast scales and arpeggios including minor scales in thirds and tenths, left hand Pizzicato, high positions, and quick string crossings.  These compositions, written and performed by the peerless Paganini, are so difficult that his contemporaries believed his mother – like Dr. Faust – made a deal with the devil bartering her son’s soul in exchange for Paganini’s musical gifts.  Yet, Carlos never missed a note!

As if he intends to really stick it to the naysayers, Carlos performs these compositions pizzicato rather than bowing.  He explained the challenge he has undertaken in the present concert as “the interpretation of three Caprices by Paganini written specifically for the violin, played in pizzicato something never before accomplished with the double bass, which entails a double challenge – the technical and the musical…My interpretation will remain for future generations.”

For the musically tutored observer it was breathtaking to watch, the performance was flawless, Carlos performed this historic feat with the apparent effortlessness of the true virtuoso that can make the exceedingly difficult look easy. To observe how difficult this work is to play for a violinist with a bow, see the video at the end of this essay.  It will give the reader some idea of the magnitude of Carlos’ extraordinary achievement.

The marvelous versatility of his quartet enables Carlos to explore his ideas with a multi-lingual musical approach. Whereas the great majority of musicians spend a lifetime trying to master one musical idiom, Carlos and his collaborators roam across idioms at will, smashing musical barriers and ignoring the conventional wisdom regarding the limits musical performance.

This is no picayune feat because the demands that Classical European music and classical Jazz makes upon the instrumentalists are very different due to the philosophy, organization and performance technique required by the two musical idioms.  For instance, European Classical music evolved in a rigidly hierarchical society where the written text reigns supreme. Hence every note is dictated by the composer’s score, and if they are members of an orchestra the instrumentalist is also subjected to the tyranny of Conductors, who impose their vision of the score weilding a baton.

Classical Jazz is a creation of Afro-Americans in the 20th century; it is the product of what Professor Bernard Bell calls “a residually oral culture where written text competes with the spoken word,” in his seminal study “The Afro-American Novel and its Tradition.”   Hence it is more important to be able to hear musical ideas than to read music, because often the idea cannot be fully expressed in notation.  Jazz also embodies the continuous Afro-American quest for freedom, and as the quintessentially American Art Jazz is democratic, values individual liberty and promotes innovation.  It also swings to the poly-rhythms of a modern machine age society.

Hence, in Jazz the written score serves to set the theme and parameters of the musical conversation not dictate what the instrumentalist plays. And whereas performance styles in European music is dictated by rigid convention, the Jazz musician has been free to create new instrumental techniques to better express their musical innovations.  This is most apparent in the way the double bass is played in the two idioms.

In European music the contra-bass is the bottom voice of the violin section and played with a bow, in Jazz it becomes a member of the rhythm section and is played pizzicato – a technique which Afro-American musicians raised to a high art. In Jazz bowing is ornamental, and in European concert music the pizzicato is an ornament.  Hence in European Music virtuosity on the bass is achieved by bowing; the great innovation of Carlos del Pino is his performance of European masterworks pizzicato.

Given the undeniable brilliance of his artistry, one is compelled to ask why Carlos is not a featured virtuoso with the world’s great symphony orchestras?  Although I can only guess at the answer to this riddle, I suspect it is due to predjudices against the instrument he plays.  As absurd as this may sound to the layman, classical musicians are very exacting in adherence to conventional wisdom. The essence of the problem is that Carlos plays an upright electric bass while they hold the acoustic bass sacred.

But, alas, like Shakespeare, Carlos is forced to combine great artistry with commercial considerations.  The son of a leather tanner Shakespeare, like contemporary rappers, wanted to get paid for his verse.*  And as literary critic Leslie Fiedler tells us in his thoughtful euridite essay “On Literature and Lucre,” Shakespeare solved the problem of sustaining himself economically as an actor/playwrite by becoming a theater owner.

And Carlos makes a living with his instrument by playing lucrative gigs which riquire an electric bass.   And when I offered to remove this impediment  to the full recognition of Carlos’ genius by the omniscient arbiters of European classical music by starting a crusade to acquire an acustic bass of Carlos’choice, he thoughtfully responded:

“Playing pizzicato with my upright bass, I have been able to unify different schools and techniques into one. Creating new styles and presenting an upright bass instead of an acoustic bass will always present some challenges and encounter little acceptance. But I continue to be better and better at my chosen instrument, and I know I will succeed because I believe in myself. I study very hard every day and I am very happy with what I have accomplished.” 

The musicianship of the quartet, like the music they make, is beyond Category.  Pianist Chimi Nakai plays with the same technical brilliance and emotional power regardless of the idiom. And she is equally superb as soloist or accompanist to Carlos. Although a native of Osaka Japan Chemi holds a Masters Degree in Jazz performance from The Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queen’s College in New York, and has won distinction as a recording artist with her own band.

David Eure teaches Jazz violin at the New England Conservatory of Music, and is a master of the instrument whose passionate and innovative playing appears to push it to the limits of its capability.  Renowned for its voice like qualities, the violin is capable of expressing a wide rage of emotions through its tonal colors and lyrical phrasings.  David makes the most of them as his violin sings, cries and soars over the rhythm section.  He is an artist of rare gifts a virtuoso of the highest rank, as you can witness in the videos below.

Percussionist Thomas Estrada, a native of Santiago de Cuba, who like Carlos was trained at the distinguished Instituto Superior de Arte is a marvel who routinely does things with traditional Cuban percussion instruments that I would not have believed possible if I had not witnessed it.  I have been playing these instruments for 50 years, saw all the greats – Francisco “Mongo” Santamaria, Carlos “Potato” Valdez, Armando Paraza, Ta Ta  Guiness, Francisco Aquabella, et al – but Estrada remains unique.  When I closed my eyes, it sounded like three people playing.

Edgar Sanfeliz Botta was the featured vocalist with the fabulous four.  He is the kind of electrifying singer on whom Latin musicians confer the honorific “El Gran Sonoro,” and like the rest of the band it was clear that he can sing in a variety of styles.  He has performed with a number of groups in Cuba, and holds an honors degree in vocal performance from Florida International University.  In January 2012 he had the honor of singing for Pope Benedict XVI.

By any measure this was an all-star cast, fully up to the challenge of pathbreaking performance.  They belong to that rare class of gifted versatile musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, and Carlos’ Afro-Cuban countrymen Chucho Valdez, Arturo Sandoval and Piquito d’Rivera who speak various musical languages without accent.   It was an affair to remember.

* (See: “Sweet Willie and the Rappers” on this blog.)

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The Instrumentalists

Pianist Chimi Nakai

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Voilinist David Eurie

Tomas Estrada: Master Percussionist

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Edgar Sanfeli Botta: El Grand Sonoro!

The Fabulous Four Takes a Bow

Every Performance is Unique…Historic!

The Wind Beneath their Wings!

Mercedes!  She is the Engine that Enables Carlos to Soar

The Impersario!

From the Cuban Cultural Foundation

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The Audience Hailed from Far and Near

And Watched Spellbound!

 

These Music Lovers came from Boston and the High Sierras of California
There are always Cultural Luminaries at Carlos’ Concerts

With Internationally Reknown Painter and Gallery Owner Ademola Olugbefola

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It’s a Family Affair…..

A Sunday Kinda Love

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A Virtuoso Beyond Category

In a Latin Jazz Mood

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This is one of the solo violin compositions performed by Carlos

 

Pianist Chimi Nkai 

Performing her original composition

Chimi plays her arrangement of a Jazz Standard

David Eurie

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Edgar Sanfeliz Botta

Tenor Soloist with Choir and Orchestra performing Vivaldi’s “Gloria

Havana Cuba 2010

 

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Text and Photos by:
Playthell G.Benjamin
Videos from You Tube