The Iguana Music Fund, Violinist Gil Shaham and more
A look at the Iguana Music Fund grant program to help musicians advance their careers and creativity. We spoke with three musicians at Club Passim in Cambridge. Then, a conversation with Grammy-winning violinist Gil Shaham, discussing his new album and performance for the IDAGIO app. (Filmed at GBH in Fraser) and Daniel Chester French’s sculpture in Boston’s Public Garden.
>> JARED BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio
in the pandemic, the musicians who played on.
And violinist Gil Shaham basking in Beethoven and Brahms.
>> It's all about the storytelling,
it's all about the drama.
>> BOWEN: It's all now on Open Studio.
We begin the show here at the storied Club Passim
in Cambridge-- a foundational place for music locally
and across the country.
Of course for the last year, live performances with audiences
haven't happened here, but it continues to fuel the music
with the Iguana Music Fund,
which has awarded grants to a number of musicians.
We recently spoke with three of them inside.
Avi Salloway, thank you so much for being with us.
Congratulations on being a recipient.
>> Thank you so much.
♪ Great blue heron in the sky
♪ Tell me why
♪ Won't you tell me why
♪ Tell me why you live this way? ♪
>> BOWEN: So for the uninitiated,
how do you describe your band?
>> My band is named Billy Wylder,
after my grandmother, Billy,
who was a very progressive spirit and author,
activist, painter, and I wanted to capture her energy.
So Billy Wylder kind of encompasses that in our name.
And we play music inspired from music and experience
all around the world.
There's this river and thread of music and culture
that has kind of evolved, informing other traditions,
and then kind of coming back to inform
the traditions where they came from,
and that's kind of my musical journey,
is finding my thread along that path.
♪ So tell me, tell me
♪ What you gonna do when your well runs dry? ♪
♪ What you gonna do when your well runs dry? ♪
>> BOWEN: Well, typically you'll do this,
I mean, of course in albums, but,
through live performance-- so how do you do that now?
How have you done it in the last year?
>> Well, recording the music has been really amazing.
We just recorded our new EP, it's calledWhatcha Looking For?
♪ Take a shovel up to the mountains ♪
♪ There's gold up in them hills ♪
♪ Spend a lifetime buried and digging ♪
♪ Your own grave and your free will ♪
It has felt, you know, like a piece of my existence
has been cut off without performing.
I usually play about 100 concerts
a year with my band.
And I, I think we've been building up this, kind of,
unparalleled energy that,
when live music does return, and we're able to come back
in common spaces and dance together and experience,
you know, life in this whole other way,
it's going to be that much more potent.
♪ She traveled with the Tuareg tribe ♪
♪ Across the Saharan dunes
♪ Climbing the wall
♪ Of survival, New York lived behind the moon ♪
>> BOWEN: To that end, in talking about energy,
when people are able to come together, and hopefully
we'll be able to do that again soon,
what happens here in a space like this?
>> It's the epitome of being in the moment.
You're... a performer such as myself
is playing a song or telling a story,
interacting with the musicians on stage, with the audience.
That's something that can't be recreated in that same space.
>> BOWEN: In the meantime, that creativity
you were talking about, does that have anything to do with
that pretty stunning music video that you've released?
>> Oh, thank you so much-- "Santiago."
♪ I go back home
♪ Where once I did live
♪ Faded pictures on the ground
♪ I try hard to forgive
>> That was cool, that was my directorial debut, actually.
It was really cool collaborating with these
modern dancers and trying to really visually tell the...
this essence of this song through,
through a kind of abstract dance and, kind of,
almost subversive storytelling
through the scenes that we put together.
>> BOWEN: And finally,
what difference, how will the Iguana Fund grant help you?
>> It's all part of a holistic puzzle of, like,
yes, there's the budget to help record,
produce, to engineer, to market.
But it's really about the greater mission
of getting the music to people,
having that shared experience
and, um, yeah, moving through, through difficult times,
beautiful times, and making, making the world a better place.
>> BOWEN: Well, Avi Salloway, it's such a pleasure
to speak with you, congratulations on the grant.
>> Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
(Juventas performing piece from Small Bear, Large Telescope)
>> BOWEN: Oliver Caplan, thank you so much for being with us.
>> Thank you for having me.
>> BOWEN: Well, just quickly describe what your group is.
>> Yeah, so we are Juventas New Music Ensemble
and we are like a classical chamber group,
except that we perform music only by living composers
and with a focus on emerging voices specifically.
>> BOWEN: Well, performing is key there.
And this last year hasn't stopped you from performing.
What have you done?
>> It actually has not.
So, last March, when the pandemic initially hit
and we had to cancel our April concert,
we quickly pivoted and launched a series
called Stay Home with Juventas.
>> ♪ No fear
>> And for three months, every Wednesday evening,
one of our musicians performed a solo concert
from their home with whatever equipment they had.
And that was our initial effort,
just to keep engaged with the community
and be there for people in a difficult time.
>> BOWEN: What's your writing been like?
Has it been any different this last year?
>> Yes, so,
for me, if there's hard times or hard emotions,
I try to pour that into my music.
Early in the pandemic, I wrote a piece called "Alone Together."
(Juventas playing "Alone Together")
I actually wrote the text for the piece,
which was the first time I've written my own text.
But it was about this experience we were all having of,
of being alone, but doing it for the greater good
and finding strength in that,
that shared apartness.
>> BOWEN: What has it been like for your musicians
to be able to remain connected?
>> For them, it's incredible, I mean,
nobody becomes a classical musician to become rich, right?
You do it because you, you breathe music,
you have to make music, and it's who you are.
(playing "Lunastella Fuga" by Oliver Caplan)
We had that initial virtual series,
but then we sort of stepped up our game a little bit
and we've been broadcasting from a recording studio now,
Futura Productions in Roslindale
with CD quality audio and video feeds from four cameras.
And we were able to bring our musicians back
together in the same room, and it's been really special.
>> BOWEN: And for those concerts you're not charging a fee?
>> We are not, actually.
There's so much widespread financial hardship right now,
and if someone needs to be with us,
if they can benefit from the concert,
we want them to be able to do that without barriers.
So we completely scrapped the idea of tickets
or subscriptions or anything.
And the concerts are available to everybody-- just one click.
>> BOWEN: So enter the Iguana Fund.
How has this helped you?
>> The support in this year is particularly impactful
because we have lost ticket revenue as a source of income
and also because it's cost us more than our normal,
what it normally costs to produce a concert,
to bring the performance in the recording studio
and kind of do it in such a high quality way
so there can be an immediacy of artistic experience
and the audience can feel like they're in the room with us.
(Juventas performing piece from Small Bear, Large Telescope)
>> BOWEN: And what does it mean from here?
I imagine this isn't something
that you had envisioned, spending so much time in
recording studios and getting into production.
Does this change things, does this mean different things
for your group going forward?
>> I think one of the unexpected silver linings of this year
is that our impact has swelled beyond anything
we've seen in our 16-year history.
Over 11,000 people who watched
the first four concerts of our season.
And now not only do we have this bigger community in Boston,
we have people watching around the country and around
the world, and we want to keep those relationships and stay
with these new friends.
>> BOWEN: Well, that's a perfect place to leave it.
Oliver Caplan, thank you so much
for being with us today.
>> You're very welcome, thank you for having me.
>> ♪ Move how I move and do what I say, so we run the city ♪
♪ We run the city ♪ If I want the drop
♪ They give me the queso-- keep it a milli ♪
♪ Keep it a milli!
♪ Big on my plays, then I gotta lay low ♪
♪ I'mma go missing ♪ I'mma go missing!
♪ I got a lot to bring to the table-- they out to get me ♪
♪ They out to get me-- we running the city ♪
>> BOWEN: DJ WhySham, thank you so much for being with us.
>> Yes, nice-- thank you! (chuckles)
>> BOWEN: Everybody's trying to find the upside of a pandemic,
but you've really found the possibilities here
during this last year, what have they been for you?
>> I have found a new world of opportunities in music.
I opened my own recording studio,
so I've been able to connect and network with various artists
in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I'll say right now
is, like, another top two.
While people were shutting down, like, their recording studios,
I was like one of the few who had one open, available.
I'm freshly new, it's only been about a year now,
I'll say, since I've had my recording studio.
I released one project and that's only
I'm currently working with about four to five artists,
I don't manage the artists at all.
I call it a, a partnership with the artists.
I have R&B tracks, I have house tracks.
I have country tracks coming soon too,
I have everything, you name it.
>> BOWEN: Well, how does that work?
Does it work because you're pushing people
out of their comfort zone?
>> I'd say so, yes.
And that's what they all have told me.
I see something different
than what they think that they're doing,
and not that I'm saying that like--
what they're doing is great, they're amazing people,
but it's just like, what more could you add to,
like, what more can you do?
And that's always been my thing, like, what more can you do?
♪ Face first in the morning, yeah ♪
♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah...
♪ You can tell in the morning, yeah ♪
♪ I can tell that you want it, yeah ♪
♪ I can tell that you want it
>> So right now it's just been them trusting me
and been willing to be open with them, with their craft.
And it's just been flowing so far.
>> BOWEN: How does being a godparent influence what you do?
It... challenges me to make music
that's going to be long-lasting.
That's what I tell all the artists I work with,
that the music I make has to be long-lasting,
that when they hear it, that they'll know
this is something to relate to.
And all my babies are African American,
so I want them to be inspired that, you know,
you don't have to be a doctor, you don't have to be a lawyer.
You don't have to be all these big things that, you know,
we push at you, what a society pushes at you.
And look at your godmother, she's a DJ, she's working,
you know, I'm just-- just making my own path that,
that works for me.
♪ 617 to the backyard
♪ Whole squad, they gon' trap hard ♪
♪ Don't worry 'bout it, that splash y'all ♪
♪ Body good, I'm like Black God ♪
>> BOWEN: You're very much a person of place, too.
You're very mindful of, of home and in this local place
in terms of your music making. >> Yes.
Dorchester is my baby.
I do love Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Mattapan.
But Dorchester is home.
I went to school in Codman Square.
I work in Codman Square.
But Boston is just where I think a lot of music history...
well, no, a lot of music foundation is from here
and sometimes it gets skipped.
You know, we get overlooked.
So I always want to show love to Dorchester,
or Rox-- wherever, who, I don't care-- Boston...
Massachusetts, how about that? (laughs)
>> BOWEN: What is "social justice trap"?
>> The social justice trap movement and music is...
just a network for trauma,
mental health, and public health.
>> BOWEN: Okay-- so you coined this phrase.
>> (chuckles) Right, like I love it because
we don't talk about the trials and tribulations
that we're going through in life.
Not everything's happy, not everything is glamorous.
And that goes into people's songs,
that goes into people's... paintings.
People perform different ways to express
all the pain that they're going through.
>> BOWEN: Tell me about your upcoming concert,
your live concert,
live as it is these days.
>> Right. Finally Live is going to be April 23,
hosted at the Dorchester Art Project.
We have a few different performances lined up
at different locations just to show love and spread it out.
But you'll see CakeSwagg, K. Watz, Brandie Blaze,
Red Shaydez, StarGyal Trippy,
half the people from my album,
and I have some new music that's coming out the same day...
♪ On this nerd day
♪ Cannot catch you hanging with no fakes ♪
♪ How to hop on this beat like yeah ♪
♪ Get money, drip...
>> BOWEN: What significance has the Iguana Music Fund
had for you? >> Oh.
Well, first of all, foremost, it has helped me get a band
that I never thought I would get a band... (laughs)
ever in my life.
So the fund has also created another network of people
that I didn't have before.
And that inspired me to tell people about this grant
and other grants, like keep applying.
This is how we're funding our career.
This is how we keep going on.
This is how we network.
There's other ways to do music.
There's other ways to get yourself out there.
There's other ways to just be you.
>> ♪ Tell me why, won't you tell me why ♪
♪ Tell me why you live this way ♪
>> ♪ Move how I move and do what I say ♪
♪ So we run the city ♪ We run the city
♪ If I want the drop, they give me the queso ♪
♪ Keep it a milli ♪ Keep it a milli
♪ Big on my plays, then I gotta lay low ♪
♪ I'mma go missing
>> BOWEN: Next, we're back in the studio,
where Grammy-winning violinist Gil Shaham
has been rather busy himself.
He's just released a new album
with the orchestra The Knights,
performing violin concertos by Beethoven and Brahms.
I recently sat down with him here in GBH's Fraser Studio
where he just recorded a performance
that streams April 17 as part of Idagio's Global Concert Hall.
Here's a look.
Gil Shaham, thank you so much for being with us.
>> So good to be with you.
So happy to be here.
>> BOWEN: So we just heard a bit of Beethoven's violin concerto.
I've heard you use the word heroic
to describe this piece-- how so?
>> I remember years ago I spoke with the great maestro,
Sir Yehudi Menuhin, and he was talking about
a particular passage in the piece, you know, this kind of...
And he referred to that first arpeggio, as he called it,
heroic, you know, there's something very military
about the first appearance of that melody.
And later throughout the piece, it transforms
kind of like a character in a movie or in a play,
or in a novel.
And it transforms and it becomes this very serene melody,
And then finally, it comes in the most joyous rondeau
at the end where everybody feels like, "Yes, I know this tune"
and of course we do know the tune,
but Beethoven has prepared us for 20 minutes and...
>> BOWEN: Well, it's so interesting to hear you
describe it, so it makes me wonder for that piece,
and any piece, how do you approach it?
Do you visualize it as a novelist might?
>> I think in a way, yeah, definitely with, with pieces
from Beethoven and many others, it's all about the storytelling.
It's all about the drama.
We are so lucky to have these masterpieces today.
You know, 1806 was the premiere of this piece.
So that makes it more than 200 years old.
When I talk to students or somebody looking at the piece,
I-I think of a great masterwork, a great sculpture.
You can really study it from an infinite number of angles.
And from every angle you'll get something,
every, every angle will be rewarding to, to look at
and to study. >> BOWEN: Well how...
what happens then when you're playing?
Does that same visualization happen?
>> In many ways, yeah.
And, you know, we, we bounce ideas off each other.
So on stage, there's all this you know, split-second reaction
to one another.
And it's really a great, great joy.
>> BOWEN: Well, you've performed this piece,
but Beethoven only wrote one violin concerto,
and this is the first time you've recorded it.
What took so long?
>> (laughs) Yes.
Yes, I guess I feel pretty old thinking about that,
about that now.
For many years I didn't play it because I, I maybe felt
intimidated, and Beethoven,
and because people feel so strongly about it,
But it really is the most rewarding thing
to, to hear Beethoven's music,
to spend time with Beethoven's music,
to go on stage and perform Beethoven's music.
It's, it's really a great, great pleasure
for-for somebody like me.
>> BOWEN: Well, speaking of impressions and how this piece
has informed others,
you also recorded a Brahms violin concerto.
Brahms was very inspired by this piece.
First heard it when he was a teenager.
Is it infused? Is Beethoven infused in Brahms here?
>> I do think in many ways the pieces are connected.
I think they share the same DNA.
I remember playing the Beethoven violin concerto,
I was in Indianapolis at the time.
It was in Indianapolis Symphony.
They were playing beautifully.
And I saw this young woman in the audience.
She couldn't have been 12, maybe 13 years old.
And she was listening to the orchestra
and the orchestra were playing, you know, this beautiful melody.
And then they turn it to minor.
And they spin the melody.
And I was looking at this young woman's expression on her face,
and I just thought, you know, she looked like,
"This is the most beautiful melody
I've ever heard in my life," you know,
and, and she's exactly right.
This is what this music is.
It's a revelation.
And I think, as you said, it had that effect
on the young Johannes Brahms, too.
It changed his life.
>> BOWEN: This is not hyperbole, this has never happened to me.
I forgot that I was here for a moment
just listening to that music.
That truly, in all of my years of broadcasting,
that has never happened. >> Thank you.
We're lucky to have Beethoven's music here for us.
>> BOWEN: Yeah.
So now I have to find my place again.
Tell me about the acrobatics involved.
People talk about, in both pieces,
how technically challenging, how physically challenging this is.
I mean, they do sort of take the violin to, to its limits,
both the Beethoven violin concerto
and the Brahms violin concerto.
Beethoven wrote his piece for a renowned virtuoso Franz Clement.
And I think he intentionally, you know, pushed the violin
to the higher ranges.
You know, Franz Clement hit some very high notes
and the story was that he composed it very quickly.
So Clement virtually sight read the solo part at the premiere,
if you can imagine that, you know, and then you cut to
a couple of generations later,
and there's Brahms writing for Joachim
and he takes it to an even more demanding level.
So, yeah, they are challenging.
And, ultimately, I think, though, their message
is what's rewarding about them.
You know, that kind of testament to the human spirit
that goes through the generations.
>> BOWEN: Well, finally, let me just ask about this time off.
That... I know that you were still performing.
We've all lived in the virtual realm.
But what has it meant for you over the last year
to not be doing the touring, not being...
not be in front of audiences?
>> These are tragic times and many people have lost so much.
And I don't think we will ever take for granted
things that we took for granted before.
But there have ironically been many positives.
You know, for me personally, I got to slow down
and I got to examine my life and consider, you know,
what it is that I do, what it is that I want to do,
who it is I want to be, you know, who do you want to help?
You know, what impact do you want to have?
I've loved being around my family all this year, you know,
and, yeah, they're sick of me at this point.
And, you know, "When are you going on tour again?"
And, um, yeah, I do think maybe, maybe ironically,
we will come out of this even, even for the better, maybe.
>> BOWEN: Well, Gil Shaham, thank you so much
for letting us be with you right now, it's such a pleasure.
>> Pleasure for me. Thank you.
>> BOWEN: It's time for Arts This Week.
Another museum re-opens and Actors' Shakespeare Project
roars back with a look at race and Othello.
Sunday, book your timed tickets to the reopened Concord Museum
and experience the new permanent galleryApril 19, 1775.
It highlights the artifacts of the day that wrought
the "Shot Heard Round The World."
>> Who's there? Othello?
>> Yes, Desdemona.
>> BOWEN: Actors' Shakespeare Project kicks off a season
of Shakespeare through a BIPOC lens
with a contemporary translation ofOthello.
The play is available on demand starting Monday.
Tuesday, experience Syrian-Armenian visual artist
Kevork Mourad'sMemory Gates at the College of the Holy Cross.
The artist collaborated with students to create a series
of doorways for visitors to pass through.
>> ♪ Saddest tale on land or sea ♪
>> BOWEN: Say "Happy birthday, Lady Day" Wednesday.
It's the day American jazz singer Billie Holiday
was born in 1915.
An epic talent whose legacy only grows,
she never learned to read music.
>> ♪ Back again blues
>> BOWEN: Teatro Chelsea kicks of the new Latinx play festival
The event begins with a reading of "Before We Focus on Others"
by Diego Lanao.
Before we leave you, we'd like to spend a moment with an angel
that sat quietly in one corner of Boston's Public Garden
for almost 100 years.
Presiding over a fountain, she is a memorial
to Boston philanthropist George Robert White.
The piece was sculpted by Daniel Chester French
at just about the same time he was working on his statue
of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial
in Washington, D.C.
And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Next week, where do you house a rare and prized collection
We'll take you to the brand new American Heritage Museum.
And when it comes to pandemic pivoting,
give the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra the prize.
(playing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy")
Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.
Thanks for joining us.
As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
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