Saturday, July 16, 2011

Incredible: Modern Mandolin Quartet and Tim Weed

Tonight, I drove myself into the far reaches of Western Marin County to hear what I expected would be a fine evening of music. It turned out to be an amazing experience of virtuosity and warmth played to an appreciative audience.

The show, at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station, opened with Tim Weed, who is to regular banjo plucking what Beethoven's 9th Symphony is to Chopsticks. Even the great Flatt & Scruggs got nothing on this guy. The complex and classical passages that leap off his fingers wowed the crowd--including me. I have heard bluegrass picking and I've heard classical masterpieces. This lean, youthful looking man with a full head of white hair delivered both.

Tim played solo at first--including a fine Spanish style composition. He plays enough notes per minute for five people. He then called up his significant other, who played a wonderful Indian tamboura. It's the drone accompanyment heard in Indian classical music. Who knew that the humble banjo could sound like an Indian sarod? It was spellbinding.

Then, before turning over the show to the Modern Mandolin Quartet, Tim brought up Dana Rath, a founding member of that group and ace mandolinist, for a gorgeous duet.

Then, the Modern Mandolin Quartet settled in. They can play chamber music--because they replicate the normal string parts. Instead of two violins, a viola and a cello, they use two mandolins, a mandola and a mandocello (which looks about the size of a guitar). The group includes Dana Rath and Matt Flinner on mandolins, Paul Binkley on Mandola and guitar and Adam Roszkiewicz on mandocello and guitar. They formed in 1985 to introduce the mandolin family to more people and to commission new works for the instruments. They began recording in 1988. Many recordings have followed.

They performed a couple of incredible selections, then broke for a friendly intermission. That gave me a chance to acquire a CD of Tim's (he autographed it for me and we spoke for a couple minutes) and one of the quartet. It's from 2004, but they are going in to record a new one soon. It will include Dvorak's American Quartet, part of which the group set on fire in the second half of the program. That second set started with Bernstein's "Cool" and went on to include a few pieces that the group has played for many years, and the exquisite Pavanne by Gabriel Faure. They played the Flower Duet from Lakme--an opera--gorgeous!

At the end, they brought Tim back and they played some amazing Bill Monroe bluegrass music. Then, as an encore, Tim set them up in a "jam" that gave the show a triumphant finish.

The intimate venue meant you could meet and get to know the performers a bit. I will definitely follow these artists, and hope you will, too.

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