Monday 19 November 2007

New York, New York

David Butcher, our Chief Executive, went to New York to work on In the Spirit of Gil and Miles. Here are his reflections on his visit, with insights into how this project has been developed.

'I'm writing this listening to the latest Sinfoniacast, which brings back some memories of meeting Gil Goldstein in New York recently. Was it only three weeks ago? I was over discussing future Britten Sinfonia projects with a number of key venues: Lincoln Centre, Brooklyn Academy of Arts, 92Y and Carnegie Hall (now run by ex-LSO chief Clive Gillinson, on fine form, and, rumour had it, preparing for his first New York marathon). It was the last day of my visit and Gil and I had arranged to meet at my hotel for the interview and from there to lunch in his favourite NYC Italian restaurant (Trattoria Dell’Arte at 900 Seventh Avenue) to catch up on progress. The familiar "Hey David" rang across the foyer as Gil negotiated a crowded hotel foyer weighed down by various scores and bags. Following lunch, it turned out, he was off to his house in Long Island to work in isolation.

Gil Goldstein is probably the ideal collaborator for a contemporary take on the famous Gil Evans and Miles Davis partnership. He worked closely with both men and is today one of the most respected arrangers working in jazz – taking on the Gil Evans mantle perhaps, although he’d demur at the comparison? Just look at the people he's arranged for and you're into a who’s who of jazz. I was quickly aware, too, that Gil's an interviewer's dream: one stumbling question from me and we’re off with slalom replies on all levels recounted with discernment, insight and hilarity in equal measure.

Romero Lubambo awaits us and, though we’ve only spoken on the phone before, his avuncular warmth and wide smile are unsurprising. He's one of Brazil's most celebrated guitarists and, along with Luciana Souza and Alex Acuna, is one of Gil’s first choice musicians for our collaboration. It’s quickly evident that they’ve all been in close touch on the ‘phone and are all fired up about the project.

Gil has retained a similar orchestration to the originals whilst adding more flutes and a few strings, and, significantly, has replaced Miles’ trumpet with voice – and an amazing one at that – that of Luciana Souza. I’d vaguely come across her via Grammy nominated Brazilian songs. She’s also known for her collaboration with Golijov and performances of Falla’s El Amor Brujo with the New York Philharmonic. A few weeks earlier, Gil pointed me to Herbie Hancock’s latest album For Joni which features luminaries including Tina Turner, Norah Jones, the eponymous Joni Mitchell and, singing Amelia, Luciana Souza. I listened. Spookily, Luciana in Amelia sounds more (to me) like the Joni in Hejira – the original album from which it comes - than Joni in For Joni! I admit to a minor dalliance with Ms Mitchell’s music during those distant early-80s student days, and was drawn to dig out and play my old LP, much to the amusement of my children. Whatever, it’s clear to me why Gil was so convinced and inspired by Luciana’s flexibility and range to take on the pioneering and original move of replacing Miles’ flugelhorn with Luciana’s voice.

Back at lunch, and Luciana, it transpires, has been singing sections of “Concierto de Aranjeuz” second movement and discussing the finer points of phrasing with Gil down the line from her home in LA the previous night. Gil, at this point, had been putting the finishing touches to his arrangement of Bachianas brasileiras No.5 and poor Romero, frustratingly, was trying to get through at the same time to recommend a piece he and Luciana perform as a duo.

Over pasta (Gil), fish (Romero) and lasagne (me) we talk around a number of practicalities relating to the project - rehearsals, venues, amplification, flights, hotels, but, for me, it’s fascinating to hear about Gil’s progress now that he’s so obviously completely absorbed in orchestrations. I almost feel the spirits hovering. He’s had exclusive access to original scores thanks to a strong (and generous) relationship with Gil Evans’ son Miles - yes, named after you know who. Gil’s established many inaccuracies between the score and studio recording of the Concierto de Aranjeuz which he’s been studying. He’s also found a score in the archive that’s never been performed, so will be including this piece in the programme – great, a Gil Evans world premiere! Every time I speak to Gil, there’s a new slant or thrilling development in the project, making its genesis so different from many other BS projects, where we know years in advance about artists and programme. I guarantee things will change right up to the first performance, but it makes it all the more exciting (if nerve-wracking).

I tell Gil that, later in our season, we’re giving London premières with conductor Maasaki Suzuki of some Stravinsky arrangements of Bach Prelude and Fugues written close to his death. Full details are here. Gil’s eager to see the scores, particularly as he’s about to arrange Bach’s Ricercare 3 from the Musical Offering. It’s obvious that his knowledge of composers such as Bach and Stravinsky is as well informed as his understanding of Evans or Gismonti. Such pluralism brings a fresh insight to our project and to so-called classical music in general.

Weighed down by puddings and gratis chocolates (but buoyed up by double expressos) we head off into New York’s steely light: Gil to Long Island; Romero to rehearse with Diana Reeves – with whom he’s about to tour – and me, with just enough time before my flight, to dive into Phoenix Stone & Beads on 5 West 37th, for a present for Susie, my wife. This unprepossessing store is an Aladdin’s cave of precious stones at unbelievably low prices (humungous pearls for $20). I choose (unusually wisely as it turns out) some seraphinite stones from Siberia, sometimes called angel stone due to an (as yet unproven) ability to communicate with angelic forces. Allegedly, they also improve the circulation of the blood, assist with general "colds and chills" and help with weight loss (not relevant in this case of course!). Surprising they’re not more widely known really, although they simply look rather pretty to me. Another tip from polymath GG: who else?'

Book now for In the Spirit of Gil and Miles : Saturday 24 November at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and Tuesday 27 November at the Town Hall in Birmingham.

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