Friday, September 30, 2011

Deborah Yamak, Cellist of Havana String Quartet, on Leo Brouwer CD, Classical Winner of Latin Grammy

[The Havana String Quartet Leo Brouwer - The String Quartets - String Trio; Zoho Classix ZM 201108 (2011)]

The Afro-Cuban composer Leo Brouwer is featured at He is one of the leading classical guitarists in the world, as well as a composer and an orchestra conductor. In November 2010 the Havana String Quartet won the award for Best Classical Album for Leo Brouwer - The String Quartets - String Trio. When the Havana String Quartet made plans to tour in the United States, we were offered a telephone interview with Deborah Yamak, cellist, during the group's stay in the U.S. An interview took place September 26, 2011, after the Quartet began its tour with a performance in Milwaukee.

Hello Deborah, I'm happy to meet you; it's nice to make your acquaintance!
Yes indeed, indeed!
How long have you been with the Havana String Quartet?
I joined the Quartet in 2006, so it's been about five and a half years.
Are you the most recent member?
I am the most recent member, that's true.
I believe the original member is Jorge Hernàndez?
Jorge Hernàndez, that's correct. The Quartet itself was started in 1980 by Leo Brouwer. He wanted to create a quartet that would devote itself to Latin music and his own music as well, of course, and Jorge has been the original and the most long-lasting member of the Quartet! It's been 31 years now!
Yes, that's quite a while!
I understand that you are from Lebanon?
I was born in Lebanon. I am an American citizen. They fell in love at Columbia University, and that was that! I basically grew up in the United States.
I believe the Quartet has done a few other recordings?
That's right!
At least three?
Before I joined there were several recordings made on a Cuban label, and the other members of the Quartet and I all play in the same orchestra in Cordoba.
Is that the orchestra that Maestro Brouwer founded in Spain?
Yes, as a matter of fact! Leo Brouwer conducted it from 1992, from its inception as an orchestra. For about 9 or 10 years he was a conductor there. It's great to have all of the colleagues in the Quartet playing in the same orchestra. We have the same schedule so it makes it easier of course to rehearse. We're not coming from five million different places!
I believe your first stop on this tour was going to be in Milwaukee?
That's correct. We did play a concert there on the 22nd of this month, and at a lovely restaurant-event space in Milwaukee called The Hamilton, and we had a lovely, very warm public and we were able to sell some CD's. It was a very enthusiastic response, and now we have our next concerts in New York and Philadelphia.
Is the New York one at the...
Cervantes Institute.
Is that named for Ignacio Cervantes?
Exactly! There's one in Chicago and one in New York and it's an Institute that promotes Spanish culture, Spanish language...
Not just Cuban, but Spanish in general?
Spanish in general, yes, exactly. They very kindly ceded us their auditorium, and have done wonderful publicity through the embassies and cultural institutes around the East Coast.
When will you go to New York?
We're leaving for New York tomorrow, actually, and the concert at the Cervantes Institute is the 29th.
Yes, yes.
You'll also be playing in Pennsylvania?
We'll be playing in Philadelphia on the 30th, and then back again in New York in a wonderful performance space in Chelsea in Manhattan on the 2nd of October.
Is that the completion of your tour then, the Oct. 2nd concert?
Exactly! It's a short little tour, and we can get some interest as far as booking agents or managers, because this is our first time playing in the United States. Having won the Latin Grammy, nobody on this side of the pond really knows us yet! We wanted to take advantage of some vacation time and do some concerts to try to get our name out there.
Yes, I read that you found out about the Latin Grammy at 2 o'clock in the morning in Spain and you let out a scream?
It's 6 hours ahead, that's right!
I have to congratulate you! It must be an amazing opportunity to receive that!
Yes, it really is! Hopefully the rest of the concerts on the tour will go as well as the first concert in Milwaukee did! It was a lovely reception, and they really warmed up to the music that we were playing. We played two Quartets by Leo Brouwer, the Third and the Fourth Quartets.
I see...
And then the second half was devoted to two more quartets by Cuban composers, one of which is a violinist in our orchestra in Cordoba, a magnificent young composer!
Would you like to mention his name?
His name is Igmar Acosta, a marvelous composer. And then the second part of the second half is devoted to popular music from Latin America. Some pieces from Brazil, some pieces from Argentina, a piece from Cuba, a piece from Uruguay, and so we get to hang out a little bit. It's not typical classical music, but it's a lot of fun to play as the quartet with wonderful arrangements, and the public really loves that kind of thing! It crosses the line a little bit between classical music and popular music.
The Fourth Quartet is relatively new, isn't it?
Yes it is! As a matter of fact, when we recorded the album with the complete String Quartets, we recorded three, and the String Trio that Leo Brouwer had written, and then he said “Well no, no, no you can't call it complete Quartets because I have a Fourth Quartet,” which he sent. He scanned and faxed and everything like that; he sent the parts over, thank goodness for modern technology, and so we got another hall to play, to record the Fourth Quartet. Apparently there's also a Fifth Quartet! We haven't seen the music to it yet, but Leo Brouwer is interested in us doing this piece in Cuba next fall.
So that's a nice thing to put on the calendar!
Absolutely! Would you like to comment on the different quartets, like the first one, going back to the memory of Bela Bartok?
Bela Bartok, correct, yes.
That would be quite different from the others, wouldn't it?
Absolutely! It really has nothing to do with the rest of the Quartets! It's very classical in its form, the compositional form, and also using the instruments in a very classical way. Of course Leo Brouwer always has his compositional stamp. You can tell that there's a lot of Cuban, African Cuban rhythm and melodic influence in his pieces. And then his Second Quartet is aleatoric. There are a lot of parts where we are given little series or cells of notes that we can play forwards or backwards, long notes or short notes. He's not writing every single note down with a time signature.
So you have some freedom to adjust it?
Exactly! And then there is also, in the Second Quartet as well in the Fourth Quartet, we are required to act a little bit, on the assumption that all musicians are very egotistical, and each one plays better than the other, you know we have to play louder than the other and make the other one shut up when we don't like what they're playing, so it's quite amusing! It does get a laugh out of the audience.
Kind of a skit?
Yes. The Third Quartet he wrote specifically for the Havana String Quartet, over a period of six or seven years, in Cordoba, and that's personally my favorite quartet!
Oh! Would you like to say anything more about it?
It's in four movements with suggestive titles and it's fun to play and it's also full of imagery, Cuban-African rhythm and the Fourth Quartet also has a little bit of playing in it, where we make our fellow musician shut up! The second violin gets a chance to improvise over a bass line that the cello will play for him, like a jazz bass. It's quite funny! It's very well written and he did very good work.
Is Jorge Hernàndez the sort of managing partner of the Quartet?
Well when one can speak Spanish, Jorge does a lot of organizing in Spain.
I see.
We are now at the moment also playing in a circuit of concerts through Andalucia, that the Andalucian government sent us out to cities and towns in the Andalucian part of Spain to play for the public. On that little tour we are playing Leo Brouwer's Fourth Quartet, music of Halffter from Mexico, a female composer of Armenian descent who lives in Argentina now, so all of the music that we are playing right now is strictly Latin American. The public is always very intrigued, because that's not music that they usually get to hear. It's not Brahms, it's not Dvorak, it's not Mozart, but it's very listenable music. They are pieces that are not necessarily on the major quartet repertoire, and it's good music so this needs to be heard. So in that respect the Havana String Quartet I think does a lovely job of honoring many composers that haven't been heard in the grander scheme of things!
This I think is the first classical work on this new Zoho Classix label?
Yes, it is! As a matter of fact, this is a new idea that Jochen Becker – he's the owner of Zoho - that he has had, that he would like to keep going on with. We have the possibility, we're trying to get to do a recording for example with Paquito D'Rivera, the clarinetist...
Oh, yes!
Doing something like Benny Goodman did, you know recording the Brahms Quintet and the Mozart Quintet, and the D'Rivera has also written music for clarinet and quartet. So that's in the talking stage at the moment. We'll see if that comes to fruition, which would be wonderful! Jochen is very pleased of course with the Latin Grammy win and is pushing ahead to try to find more recording possibilities for the Quartet.
I notice that he's worked with several record labels including Vox and Discover International?
Yes; he knows his stuff! No doubt about it! I've spoken with him on the phone several times. Luckily, at our first concert in New York, on the 29th, I will be able to meet him firsthand for the first time!
Very good!
So, I'm very excited about that! It's very nice to be in the hands of someone who is very professional and knows what he's doing, and knows what he wants. Well, we'll see what happens!
Leo Brouwer is the only living Cuban composer at, but there are some other people from the past, like José White; have you done some of his works?
Yes, of course! Leo Brouwer is still going strong! We recorded the complete string quartets and the string trio in honor of his 70th birthday. Hopefully we'll have another decade of music.
He was born in 1939?
Exactly! So, we made the recording in order to be able to come out in 2009 and he was tickled pink, obviously!
Yes, he must have been! I want to thank you very much for taking the time to contact us.
You're very welcome. Obviously we're in the same time zone! It has been good speaking with you. We'll be in touch regarding the upcoming concerts, okay?
Very good, thank you very much.
Thank you very much Bill!
Goodbye now!
Bye bye.

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