I was a contented hostage of mandolin warriors Saturday night. The Classical Mandolin Society of America presented a concert at the Sarasota Hyatt and it was the best mandolin concert I’ve ever been to. I’ve never actually been to a mandolin concert before but that shouldn’t preclude it from being the best.
There were group performances by the Sarasota Mandolin Orchestra and what was called the En Masse Orchestra, made up of about 80 people who attended the convention. That was a lot of tremolo! But it was truly well done. I was surprised by the range of dynamics they can get on mandolins.
Carlo Aonzo, a classically trained Italian mandolinist, was accompanied by Rene Izquierdo on guitar. To my ears they were near perfect technically, but even better they played with passion and intensity. Their performance was enchanting. And so was Carlo’s accent. I later told him I would have “paid just to hear him speak.” He denied that he had an accent, then said “What does this page-us mean?” (as in “I would have paid just to hear you speak.) Italians are adorable. I need to go to Italy. Like right now.
Rene nodded at us in the hallway before the concert, doubtless because he knew that we are groupies. (Later he would share chocolates with us as we bought cd’s and give Emily brilliant advice about staying as debt-free as possible during her undergrad studies.) He was very expressive when he played, frequently smiling and nodding. I always love it when a musician exhibits their emotional connection to the music. It seems like every musician would reflexively do that, but I’ve seen some who are merely technicians – they don’t have a bond with the music or audience.
There was also a performance by Evan Marshall, a mandolinist from California. He plays duo style, a technique where he plays a duet with himself by playing the melody in tremolo and chords or pizzicato with the left hand. It was the kind of jaw dropping performance where you can’t believe a person can be so technically brilliant yet so humble and personable. He played variations of Beethoven’s 9th, Caprices and William Tell Overture. He even played a bit of dueling banjos in between selections. Quite remarkable!
Around 11 some of the audience began trickling out because well, they were old. They were a good audience for old-timers though. At some shows in Florida, I’ve seen them head for their cars during the intermission.
The perfect end to the evening came when Carlo, Rene and Evan teamed up for an encore. They’d practiced together once that afternoon and played flawlessly.