Avi Avital, Il Giardino Armonico & Giovanni Antonini

Biography Avi Avital, Il Giardino Armonico & Giovanni Antonini

Avi Avital, Il Giardino Armonico & Giovanni Antonini

Avi Avital
Music history proved unkind to the classical mandolin, whose popularity declined during the nineteenth century as tastes changed and more powerful orchestral instruments were developed. In recent years, however, Avi Avital has raised its international profile and revitalised its repertoire, moving it from the margins to the mainstream of concert life. “I see it as my mission to fill the historical gap in the mandolin repertoire, so there will be no shortage of good compositions for the instrument in future,” he says. His eloquent artistry, applied to everything from daredevil transcriptions of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to over 100 new commissions by composers such as David Bruce, Anna Clyne, Avner Dorman and Giovanni Sollima, combines jaw-dropping virtuosity, scintillating musicianship and expressive intensity.

Born in 1978 in the desert city of Beersheba (Be’er Sheva) in southern Israel, Avital began playing mandolin at the age of eight and promptly joined the local youth mandolin orchestra, a remarkable ensemble founded by the Russian-born violinist Simcha Nathanson, whose charismatic teaching and use of transcribed violin pieces left an indelible impression on the young Avi. “He taught me music,” he notes. “The instrument to me is not the point.”

After studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, Avital moved to Italy and absorbed lessons about the mandolin’s historic repertoire from Ugo Orlandi at the Cesare Pollini Conservatory in Padua. He soon broke with tradition, however, in search of a personal artistic identity. Encounters with different musical traditions and genres – from bluegrass and jazz to world music – and collaborations with his mentor, the great klezmer clarinettist Giora Feidman, prepared the way for his emergence as a mandolin pioneer.

Avital’s progress gathered speed in 2007 when he became the first mandolinist to win Israel’s Aviv Competition (for young musicians on the verge of a professional career), and continued with a succession of debut dates at, among other prestigious venues, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing and the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Since then, as well as appearing at the major international festivals and performing with the world’s leading orchestras, he has also forged close partnerships with other artists who share his openness to musical exploration, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, accordionist Ksenija Sidorova and percussionist Itamar Doari among them. In 2010 Avital became the first mandolin player ever to be nominated for a Grammy® Award, when he was included in the “Best Instrumental Soloist” category for his recording of Avner Dorman’s Mandolin Concerto. He signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 2012 and launched his Yellow Label discography soon after with an album of his own arrangements of harpsichord and violin concertos by J.S. Bach. Avital signalled his commitment to new repertoire with his second DG album, Between Worlds (2014), a survey of works inspired by folk-music traditions, complete with compositions by Bartók, Bloch, Falla, Piazzolla, Tsintsadze and Villa-Lobos.

Released in 2015, Vivaldi presented the eponymous composer’s Mandolin Concerto and transcriptions of other concertos, including “Summer” from The Four Seasons, together with the traditional Venetian song “La biondina in gondoleta”, sung by Juan Diego Flórez. Avital Meets Avital, released in 2017, contains the rich fruits of a creative dialogue between Avi Avital and his namesake the Israeli-American jazz bassist, composer and bandleader Omer Avital. Most of the works recorded were specifically composed for the album, drawing on a range of musical traditions, including those of North Africa, the Balkans and Andalucia. Avital’s next album, Art of the Mandolin, released in 2020, was a groundbreaking addition to his discography – his first recording to consist entirely of original mandolin works. With music by Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti, Beethoven, Henze and Ben-Haim, as well as world premiere recordings of new commissions by David Bruce and Giovanni Sollima, the album surveys three centuries of the classical mandolin repertoire, reflecting both its quality and its breadth. For his latest album, entitled simply Concertos, Avital is joined by the period-instrument ensemble Il Giardino Armonico and its conductor and co-founder Giovanni Antonini. They have recorded original concertos for mandolin by Barbella, Paisiello and Hummel, together with Avital’s own adaptations of works by J.S. Bach and Vivaldi. Antonini appears as recorder soloist in the Bach and, thanks to technology, Avital plays all four parts in the Vivaldi. The album will be released on 17 November.

Among his recent live highlights are seven concerts in 48 hours with the Zürcher Kammerorchester, as artist in residence at the 2023 ZKO Festival; touring with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, including performances of Anna Clyne’s Three Sisters concerto at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival; and a South American tour with Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen, taking in venues in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Lima and Bogotá.

Avital’s forthcoming engagements include an appearance at the George Enescu Festival in Bucharest with the Between Worlds Ensemble, which he founded in 2014, followed by dates with pianist Omer Klein in Cluj and Sibiu (8–10 September 2023); a North American tour with accordionist Hanzhi Wang (October); and concerts with Il Giardino Armonico featuring repertoire from Concertos in Rotterdam, Seoul, Zagreb, Cologne and London (December).

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