Bristol Proms

Avi and Mahan
Bristol Old Vic, 1 August

Avi and Mahan


Guest post by Tushna Commissariat

From the outset, the Avi Avital and Mahan Esfahani concert at the Bristol Proms was presented as a “unique meeting” of minds and musical geniuses, as it were. But I don’t think the audience (or I!) was quite prepared for the sheer chemistry and musical exuberance that these two lovers of Bach shared on stage. Israeli Avi Avital, mad mandolin maestro, and Iranian Mahan Esfahani, wild harpsichord virtuoso, didn’t really perform a concert for your average classical music buff. Instead, the two – who it later transpired had met for the very first time that morning and had precisely one rehearsal in the day – had the kind of chat that childhood friends of old would have after many years apart, interspersed with playing music with and at each other, while inviting the bemused audience to listen, if they liked.

Both Avital and Esfahani’s love for Bach, who featured heavily that evening, emerged early in the concert, with Esfahani recalling the first time he heard Bach, as a young child in the car with his father. “Bach is a universal language…” said Esfahani, “but he is always difficult”, as Avital concurred. Apart from the wonderful Bach and Vivaldi the duo played, I particularly enjoyed the Scarlatti sonata.

Both artists also decided to play a “gift” for each other – a song that was not a planned part of the programme and one that the other was not aware of. Both of these pieces were amazing – Esfahani played a tune, which for the life of me I cannot recall the composer of, that he described as a “party piece” that he would play on the piano for his father and friends when younger. It was indeed a grand, over-the-top show-off of a work, but quite possibly the best harpsichord piece I have ever heard. It made me want to search out more pieces written for the harpsichord, which was new for me!

Avital decided to play a folk song that he learned from a Bulgarian accordion player at a large international festival. Slow and easy in the beginning, the song built up until Avital was nearly folded in half over his mandolin and strumming for all he was worth. It was the best song I have ever heard played on a mandolin.

So undoubtedly the music played in that one and half hour concert was wonderful, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was watching Avital and Esfahani interact and get to know each other, as musicians and as people, that made the evening especially enjoyable.

*****

My thanks to Tushna for this review, and for persuading me to step out of my comfort zone and go to the concert with her. It was a lot of fun.

Disclaimer: Tickets were kindly supplied to us by the theatre in return for an honest review.

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