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  2016-05-05
  Our 'Boutique' Workshops
 
  With the proliferation of summer music camps and workshops, I thought it might be useful to spell out some of the main differences and strengths of our Vermont experiences.

The first thing is that we keep our workshops to an intimate number, fifteen maximum. From attending various workshops myself, and as a teacher hungry to tailor the material to a specific group or individual, I know that our unique experiences give us unique understandings, strengths, and shortcomings.

Our Vermont workshops give individual attention in three ways: 1. private instruction; 2. masterclass-style interactions that place one player in the center of the room and opens up feedback to the group; and 3. creating space for individual voices/concerns/issues/questions due to the limited number of overall participants.

The values of private instruction are self-evident: the student has direct access to a mentor in a confidential setting that can make candid technical assessments easier to swallow, and invites remedies and suggestions that are tailor made to the student.

The "masterclass," (not thinking of the traditional "master" in this case, but rather conceiving of the community as the master) is a forum that is a powerful, healing and intriguing context for growing as a player and as a teacher. It's uncanny how input from a small group of new friends becomes a potent and positive experience when we're together in a creative and self-actualizing context like improvisation and creativity.

We begin nearly every Vermont workshop with an evening of free improvisation. This seems to set the stage for releasing pretense, as well as adopting values of mindful presence, listening, and response-ability (the ability to respond).

Of course, there's lots of detailed information too, but you're always within arms reach of someone who can clarify and demonstrate the intricacies of anything.

The relatively small numbers at our workshops make providing great food possible, and we believe that food plays an important role. While I always repeat, "you are what you eat," meaning your improvs will tend to reflect the values of your listening and practice, we take pains to provide the best locally sourced ingredients prepared by our ace chef, Liz Rogers. Conversations take a different turn when you're enjoying some of the best food to be had in Vermont - or anywhere.

I think there must be something about the air in Vermont too, people seem to be OK with who they are here, and are encouraged to go barefoot and lie in the grass.

The sense of community that is formed over the course of a few days consistently leads to life-long friendships and collaborations.

I like to think that our workshops are part of a corporate backlash in a way, we keep things personal, designed to unleash your music, to encourage your independent thinking, and to nourish your own musical communities with tools for new collaborations, sounds, and styles.


  2013-11-03
  Why "World" Strings?
 
  Berklee World Strings champions music and composers from all over the world for a simple reason: there are so many musical traditions - outside of what we consider to be Classical music - in which stringed instruments play an important role. There are also countless musical traditions whose beauty and allure is so great that we string players are eager to paint their colors with the instruments we love.

With creativity blossoming in the string community combined with the wildly diverse interests and accomplishments of the new players, it’s only natural to pool our passions in a forum for developing and showcasing new ideas, combinations and sounds.

There’s something about the sound of strings that seems to elevate the commonplace to profundity. In BWS we sometimes fight that with aggressive funky-ness, but it’s also interesting to employ strings in playing music from economies where strings were/are not an affordable option or were so associated with the elite to render them ridiculous in folk settings. (Even if strings were available in some cases, it’s possible the predominantly European-trained players proved so stiff at playing folk styles that their music came off like a kind of parody.)

Berklee World Strings aims to change that. Our challenge is to not only expand the repertoire for strings, but to acquire a flexible instrumental technique that responds to multiple languages of music, and an ear that is sensitive to regional accents and musical dialects.

And BWS strives to be a kind of greenhouse for the Berklee community; we want to be an ensemble where music is cultivated that nourishes and reflects the unique appetites, inclinations and abilities of our international population, a population that in turn reflects the diversity of the city we live in and indeed the world at large.

While this may sound noble, at the heart is something childishly simple: curiosity. As we explore and integrate new sounds, traditions, rhythms and styles we are really learning new stories, and each one opens us to perceptions and abilities that reveal new facets of ourselves. This discovery - pondering the meaning of new stories and expanding our palette of communication as musicians - makes the intense work we engage in a source of constant renewal.

And finally, BWS is an international consort, we are made up of musicians from all over the world. This is not a coincidence, but an essential aspect of our work creating new repertoire and internalizing new stories. Only by embracing each individual, and each heritage, does the ensemble function at its peak. This work appears easy when practiced by youth, and in fact I’m convinced that if the whole world knew how much fun it is to be creatively engaged across cultural divides, it would never settle for anything less.


  2013-03-25
  Music in Weird Places
 
  I’m hearing of more and more unusual contexts for classical music: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in a town square flash mob, chamber music in bars, solo Bach electrified in a rock club. Bringing the music to the people is not a new idea, but it’s being pursued with a passion all over. And it’s refreshing to see so many musicians willing to make a break with tradition, to take themselves a bit less seriously, and let their favorite music speak for itself on Main Street.

I think this is creativity - it may be creativity in its early stages, but it’s creativity nonetheless.

For way too long, musicians have furthered the notion that the great composers are deities. We forget that these guys were musicians, they had sometimes vicious and raunchy senses of humor, untidy abodes, work stations and personal lives, and really had to figure out how to make money. In addition, they chose a creative vocation that is rife with failure.

Failure.

It’s easy to look at a Schubert song and believe that this came into musical life without effort or strain. Inspired, yes, but also crafted with an eye on the public and an ear to the publisher. And the pathway to a work of art is strewn with all matter of personal and artistic roadblocks that must be overcome.

It’s a messy business, creativity.

And we performers need to get messy too.

I believe there will always be great symphony orchestras, but it’s not obvious that there will be. Just as Mozart, Haydn, and nearly every great composer you can think of created music with roots in folk music, we are in desperate need of more Gershwins and Bernsteins to create new, exciting and emotionally satisfying orchestral music that everyone understands intrinsically.

Rock violinist Mark Wood has made the point that musical innovations of the last fifty years did not happen in academia, but in pop music.

So too, the institutions – universities, symphony orchestras, etc. – will most likely not be the sources of innovation and cultural change in musical performance. That will happen through a thoroughly messy – and potentially joyful – process of trial and error.

In the meantime I will enjoy every Bach suite played as a fiddle tune, it’ll be great to hear a Joshua Bell in the subway, a Mozart Divertimento outdoors at sunrise, a flute solo in a reverberant lobby. These are the sounds of a culture changing.


  2013-02-16
  PREMIERE:
 
  Just back from California where I had the privilege to work with a superb ensemble of cellists preparing my new piece, “The Soul of the White Ant,” written for four cellos. Inspired by a book of that name written by South African naturalist Eugene Marais, my quartet aims to evoke the mystery, the intensity, the coordination, and the restless motion of a white ant termitary.

Joining me in bringing the piece to life for the first time was long-time cello hero and friend John Walz, first-call LA session and chamber player David Speltz, and LA Chamber Orchestra member Giovanna Moraga Clayton.

In four rehearsals we prepared the new piece, plus my arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Tritonis,” plus Bach's "Chaconne" originally written for violin solo and arranged for cello quartet by Laszlo Varga in 1957.

We had three opportunities to perform our program and it was a great joy to work with John, David and Gio, show audiences the versatility of the cello, demonstrate the great camaraderie of cellists, and to feel our performance deepen with each concert.

John is a profoundly gifted virtuoso on cello. He gets around the instrument with uncanny grace and precision. I remember his great playing from my year of being his stand partner in American Youth Orchestra (1975-76) in Los Angeles under the direction of the great Mehli Mehta, Zubin’s father. John played lead in the Chaconne in our recent concerts and handled the extreme high register, and technical difficulties with true panache. John gave me his CD, a tribute to his teacher, Pierre Fournier. I drove around LA listening to his recording of the Martinu Cello Concerto No. 1 in sonic luxury.

David is a musican’s musician. He offered great ideas regarding pacing, phrasing and dynamics, plus creates this amazing sound on his Vuillaume cello. David played lead on “White Ant” and added a lot of melodic warmth and dignity plus spaciousness to the tricky 5/8 and 7/4 passages. In addition to playing on most of the major orchestral soundtracks recorded in LA, David has been a longstanding member of the Pacific Serenades Chamber Ensemble, and has been featured in scores of premiere performances throughout Los Angeles.

Gio is a player with experience in Latin and pop music, and that really came in handy in the Brubeck as well as the new piece. She’s got a great “chop” and general rhythmic swing and feel, and it was great fun to convey these grooves in concert. Gio is also a GREAT singer, and she took a scat solo in the Brubeck that really surprised and delighted our audiences. Gio plays in “Quattro,” a dynamic quartet of cello, violin, Latin percussion and guitar. They do originals featuring some amazing instrumentals and group vocals, plus some classical crossover arrangements that show their incredible instrumental skills (http://quattrosound.com/).

“The Soul of the White Ant” was favorably received by our listeners, and I’m grateful to Pacific Serenades director Mark Carlson for the opportunity to create it and to perform the piece at such a high standard. This was the 107th new piece they have commissioned in 27 years of concerts – a brave and bright achievement in our cultural climate!


  2012-04-07
  ASTA 2012
 
  It was great participating in the 2012 American String Teacher's Association convention in Atlanta recently. I was amazed and heartened by the proliferation of new music and materials for the creative string player. There is clearly a tangible hunger to have more fun, reach new audiences and participate creatively in music.

At my presentation, "Improvisation for Classical Musicians," I asked the hundred-or-so attendees what they considered to be the obstacles facing a classically trained musician wanting to improvise. The session could easily have been spent detailing and addressing the fears that seem to come along with our training and early musical experiences.

I am hopeful that our new book ("Improvisation for Classical Musicans: Strategies for Creativity and Expression") will address some of these fears, but it's clear that there's much work to do in this regard.

How can we instill a love and passion for music in our students without the baggage WE might have inherited from frustrated teachers?


  2010-03-18
  California Tour and New CD
 
  I'm in California doing a tour performing and promoting our new CD, "Colorful Transitions." I'm playing solo tonight at a beautiful meditation retreat in Ojai, CA (www.meditation.com), and Tim Ray flies in tomorrow to commence the grooving portion of the tour! The CD turned out really well, and we're happy to have captured these lively performances of Brazilian choros, and our originals. We've also included two Friesen/Halley favorites, "First Ride," which we've performed in nearly every Paul Winter event for the past 20 years, and "Remembering You." More information on the CD and the tour at: www.sonoterra.weebly.com

  2009-02-20
  WEB UPDATES!
  New MySpace and Facebook sites
  Wendy and I have been having some fun putting together MySpace and Facebook sites for my stuff as well as Trio Globo. Recently we've added a video of "Sapphire," a new piece I wrote for Wendy, performed by the Berklee Jazz/World String Orchestra at the Berklee Performance Center on December 15th, 2008. You can find it on MySpace (look for Eugene Friesen Music), on Facebook (Eugene Friesen fan page), and on YouTube (Sapphire by Eugene Friesen). Sheet music available soon!

  2008-12-16
  Berklee Jazz/World String Orchestra
 
  Last night the Berklee Jazz/World String Orchestra performed in the Berklee Performance Center with some good friends and guests.

The concert began with a student group, The Folk Arts Quartet, a string quartet of fiddlers from Scotland, Canada, and the US. The FAQ (Hannah Read, Ivonne Hernandez, violins, Julie Metcalf, viola and Liz Davis on cello) charmed the audience with three original pieces showing their great grooves and stylistic mastery and diversity.

Then the orchestra took the stage with "Wonderwall" by Oasis, arranged by Berklee grad Helen Sherrah-Davies featuring rocking solos by our concertmistress Sue Buzzard and Canadian fiddler Trent Freeman.

Next came the premier of "Sapphire," a rollicking and melodic piece in 7/8 time I composed for my wife Wendy.

Our featured guest for the evening was Chris Berry, an amazing mbira (thumb piano) master, singer and drummer. We inserted into the program three pieces featuring Chris with Jamey Haddad on percussion, Dave Tronzo on electric guitar and myself on cello.

Then came "African Solstice" by Darol Anger with the strings together with Chris, Jamey and Dave featuring student violin soloist Tai Fitzpatrick. Tai played an enchanting solo where she doubled her improvised lines with her voice. Together with the magical colors from Jamey, Chris and Dave, this quiet groove became a very special musical treat.

Our finale was Ya-Una, a piece Chris brought back from an aged mbira master in Africa. Chris transcribed the many lines played by a traditional African mbira ensemble, and we crafted a version for strings and soloists which changed quite a bit with each performance. Using hand signals to direct each section of the orchestra to numbered parts, we were able to create a dynamic performance which had the audience clapping along to a thundering conclusion. Student soloists were Mariel Vandersteel - an Irish fiddler who improvised a very grooving jig inside the African 12/8 - and Chris Marion who offered a deep understanding of the 12/8 from a contemporary jazz viewpoint.

Throughout the performance, Chris's beautiful mbiras, fresh vocals and original music brought something quite new to the Berklee audience. Dave Tronzo created a multitude of other-worldy effects and great solos on slide guitar. Jamey Haddad always brings a mystical quality of music making to an event, everyone seems to play better when he just walks in the room and last night was a perfect example of that.

This fall's edition of the Berklee Jazz/World String Orchestra was really excellent with a variety of great soloists and ensemble players. The group continues to grow and I'm really excited that we are adding an extra rehearsal next semester which will make even more possible. We are also planning a spring tour, our first, for early May '09.


  2008-10-20
  Oscar Castro-Neves – Anniversary of the Bossa Nova
 
  In October the Berklee College of Music in Boston hosted the brilliant guitarist/producer/composer Oscar Castro-Neves for a gala concert, “The 50th Anniversary of the Bossa Nova.” I first met and worked with Oscar in 1981 working on the Paul Winter album, “Missa Gaia.” Since then we have had many musical reunions in New York and Los Angeles.

It was a great pleasure to perform with Oscar again, and he brought his extraordinary orchestrations, arrangements and original compositions to this evening with a fantastic rhythm section and full orchestra in the Berklee Performance Center. Oscar’s program included what people consider to be the first bossa piece, Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade,” and included many familiar tunes in brilliant new concert versions. We were joined by Jetro da Silva on piano, vocalist Teresa Ines, Oscar Stagnaro on bass, Bertram Lehman on drums, Fernando Brandao on flute, Ricardo Monzon on percussion along with the Berklee String Orchestra.

After six decades of traveling the world Oscar still has more energy and invention than anyone in the room, and his personal warmth and humor added a profound dimension to an unforgettable evening. Then, after traveling from California, two days of non-stop rehearsals, workshops, socializing, and a high energy performance, Oscar was surrounded by fans, but when he saw my wife Wendy he jumped off the stage and ran to the back of the hall so he could adore our two sleeping 7 year-old daughters!


  2008-09-18
  TRIO GLOBO @ Interlochen
 
  Trio Globo enjoyed two days on the campus of the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan. Cello professor and good friend Crispin Campbell was instrumental in getting the Trio to Interlochen where we worked with some extremely gifted students introducing improvisation and non-classical approaches to strings. Our concert there was well attended and it was a great pleasure to play for that exuberant audience! Also, their string orchestra conducted by David Holland read my piece “Maracaibo,” a real workout for strings featuring rhythms of Venezuela, and it was great fun hearing these wonderful young classical players groove like that!

  2008-08-25
  Rio de Janeiro
 
  Wendy and I were in Rio for 10 days in August. We enjoyed a reunion with our new friends, harpist Cristina Braga and producer/bassist Ricardo Medeiros. We had four concerts in Rio celebrating the release of our new CD, “Paisagem.” Cristina and Ricardo and I were joined in concert by the wonderful pianist Marcos Nimrichter and the great drummer Joca Moraes. Check out this nice review of the CD: http://musicabrasileira.org/cristinabraga/cbpaisagem.html

This August was my third visit to the Rio International Cello Encounter. This year I was honored to solo with the wonderful string orchestra from Montreal, Quebec, I Musici de Montreal conducted by Yuli Turovsky. I performed a program of bossa nova classics scored for cello, piano and strings in Rio’s beautiful concert hall, Sala Cecilia Morales.

Wendy and I also had a chance to meet an impressive group of young dancers in a special arts program for under-privileged teens. Under the direction of director Roberto these kids performed an eleven minute piece to music improvised by Rio percussionist Silvio and myself. You can see more of this, and learn about our foundation, Sono Terra, at: http://sonoterra.org.


  2008-06-25
  Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival
 
  The Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival is directed by Ken Nafziger and takes place on the campus of the Eastern Mennonite University and other locations in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This year I was at the festival as “composer-in-residence” and I had the thrill and honor to hear three of my pieces brought to life with great performances by the excellent festival musicians and Maestro Nafziger: “Under The Sun,” my string octet; “Good Providence” a piece for baritone vocalist and solo cello with full orchestra; and “Sabbaths,” settings of four poems by Wendell Berry scored for choir, cello and strings. My wife Wendy joined me in Harrisonburg for these beautiful June days. We stayed at the Stonewall Jackson Inn (http://www.stonewalljacksoninn.com/) where we were hosted royally!

  2008-02-12
  Grammy Win!
 
  A follow-up: The 2008 Grammy Award in the New Age category went to us, The Paul Winter Consort, for our newest CD, "Crestone." Congratulations go to Paul Winter for his ongoing commitment to convey the transformational powers of natural places and the dignity of our native predecessors who were stewards of our continent for millennia. Crestone features great performances by Paul McCandless on bass clarinet, English horn and oboe; John-Carlos Perea on pow-wow drum, cedar flute and vocals; Glen Velez on percussion and many others including various birds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southwestern Colorado. (My third Grammy!)

  2008-01-23
  Chicago CelloWorks
 
  While working on a new Trio Globo recording I had a week in Chicago and had the opportunity to take my cello to Russell Wagner at Chicago Celloworks in Evanston. Russell has a loving and seemingly magical touch with cellos as evidenced by the enhanced sound and comfort I now have on my Douglas Cox cello. I’m looking forward to my next visit and highly recommend that all you cellists let Russell know next time you are in Chicago – you will thank me!

russell@chicagocelloworks.com

tel: 1-847-475-5110


 

 

 

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