Culai (2011-2012)


take a listen – hear an audio preview:

commissioned by Brooklyn Rider.
Dedicated to Brooklyn Rider, Culai Neacsu and Romica Puceanu.
This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.see a score sample [PDF]

“Culai” was the nickname of Nicolae Neacsu, the elder violinist and vocalist of the wild and infamous Gypsy ensemble, the Taraf de Haiidouks. Culai’s trademark tugging of the bowhair across a string, in the song Balada Conducatorlui, have been widely seen by over 200,000 viewers on YouTube, in concerts worldwide, as well as in Tony Gatlif’s film “Latcho Drom”.Nicolae Neacsu died in 2002, and in in writing this piece, I took much inspiration from the way he seduced the audience with his gaze, told stories of Gypsy life in Romania, and played violin, equally with the innocence of an amateur student, and the smirk of a professional who’s been on the road for decades and had seen everything.

I first heard Gypsy music recordings in the informal street markets of my native Moscow, when I was barely 7 years old. In 2005, I was asked to arrange several selections of the Taraf’s repertoire for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble — a few months after that, I heard the Taraf perform live at Carnegie Hall. That year, I also met Inna Barmash, the vocalist of the New York-based Gypsy band Romashka, and now we are married with two beautiful children. In 2006, while assisting Osvaldo Golijov on the film soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Youth Without Youth”, we visited the band’s village of Clejani, near Bucharest, where I even played with the band for a few tunes.

“Culai” is cast in five movements that depict a vague “life cycle” story. The first movement, “The Game”, is a jaunty dance, a sort of cat-and-mouse play; the second, “The Muse” juxtaposes a soaring melody over an accompaniment pattern that is in a slightly different pulse. The third “The Song”, was very much inspired by the singing of the Gypsy vocalist Romica Puceanu. The fourth movement, “Love Potion Expired” is an arrangement of a tune I had originally written for my ensemble, Ljova and the Kontraband, a breathless tarantella that perpetually falls onto itself. The last movement, “Funeral Doina”, is imagined as music for a funeral procession, a last tribute to a master violinist and storyteller.

CATEGORY chamber music,
INSTRUMENTATION string quartet
DURATION approximately 20 minutes
WORLD PREMIERE February 24, 2012 – Molloy College, Rockville Center NY
OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMANCES February 25, 2012 – Dumbarton Concerts, Washington DC
February 25, 2012 – Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn NY
July 20, 2012 – Caramoor Festival, Katonah NY
RECORDING Recorded by Brooklyn Rider for their album “A Walking Fire”, to be released on April 30, 2013, on Mercury Classics. Order on or head to iTunes for three bonus tracks!
SCORE AVAILABILITY A Perusal PDF score is available on request (contact Ljova). Parts and arrangements are available for sale via PDF or mail delivery; arrangements for combinations not listed above may be commissioned on request. [contact for more info]

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