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.

Bristol Old Vic Ferment Fortnight

Bristol Old Vic
(CC-BY NotFromUtrecht)

Bristol Ferment is the community of theatre-makers from Bristol and the South West that Bristol Old Vic supports and helps to develop exciting and adventurous new work. Twice a year, we can get a glimpse behind the scenes of the artistic process during Ferment Fortnight, when work in progress is performed and discussed directly with the audience.

The current Ferment Fortnight runs until 31 January, so there’s still time to check it out for yourself.

The Stillness of the Storm That Never Came at All
by Clerke and Joy
Bristol Old Vic, Friday 24 January 2014

I arrived in the Studio Theatre to the powerful smell of garam masala, coming from a large pool of it spread on the theatre floor. Josephine Joy created sound effects using a laptop, a microphone and an array of electrical goods, while Rachael Clerke delivered a monologue about an Indian girl who has just moved to Mumbai after studying abroad in London. The sounds were a combination of traffic, voices, weather and domestic appliances, occasionally ratcheted up so that they threatened to drown out the monologue. Combined with the spice smell this gave a powerful sense of place to the story, especially considering there were no visual cues to place it anywhere particular. The story is currently only a snippet but it was absorbing and well written, and I definitely felt that a whole character had been created in this brief snatch of a play.

After the performance we had a Q&A in which Clerke and Joy explained the roots of the show and where they hope to take it (as well as encouraging lots of feedback, which is after all the whole point of Ferment Fortnight). Their plan is to write three monologues for three actors, each set in a different city. They will have a musician or DJ on stage and do a lot of their scene-setting with soundscapes. They have themes they want to explore but no firm story as yet. (To be fair, I should mention that they have only been writing this for a few days, having not long been back in the UK after spending three weeks in Mumbai running theatre workshops and developing the concept for this show.) Their themes include weather, feminism, decline in industry, reclaimed land, migration and oral storytelling – which is quite an eclectic bag, yet I can see it working. All of those are already present to some extent and the choice of the other two cities (one of which is likely to be Belfast, but the third is completely unknown right now) will no doubt both be informed by and have an effect on that list of themes.

The monologue text came from the workshops and some other conversations that Clerke and Joy held in Mumbai. I thought they demonstrated a gift for picking out the thoughts and observations that got to the heart of what this one lonely girl’s experience of Mumbai would be like. This play has the potential to turn into a really fascinating glimpse of some very different locations and lives.

I loved this opportunity to see something so raw and new, something unformed but brimming with potential. I’ll definitely be checking out future Ferment performances.

Disclaimer: A free ticket was kindly supplied to me by the theatre in return for contributing a review to Theatre Bristol Writers.