Serendipitous Encounter in Växjö

18 January 2014:

Gilles Apap

Gilles Apap

I would not have experienced, last evening in Växjö, Sweden, the extraordinary talent of the man depicted to the right had I not gone to an evening university extension class in California in 1996. That’s where I met the woman who would, six years later, become my wife.

Before I moved to Stockholm to live with Eva, we took a seven-day backpack trip along Kungsleden (King’s Trail), in the northernmost part of Sweden, in the summer of 1999. On the trail we met LarsErik and his son Erik who live in a village near Växjö. We became friends and, after I moved to Stockholm in 2002, visited with him when we traveled four-to-five hours south to Växjö to be with one or the other of Eva’s two children who have attended Linnaeus University there. We occasionally saw him in Stockholm when he traveled here with the orchestra he has been working for.

LarsErik is a multi-talented fellow: photographer, reader of poetry, writer and editor of church newsletters, and manager of the infrastructure for Musica Vitae Chamber Orchestra. His photographs grace the book Växjö domkyrka i nutid och historia (“Växjö Cathedral in New Times and History”).

In that Eva and I were to attend the graduation ceremony in Växjö for her daughter, LarsErik invited me to attend a concert of Musica Vitae at the Swedish Emigrant Institute in the city (Eva was unable to attend). I went to hear this now-familiar group play Bach, Mendelssohn, and Vivaldi. I knew nothing about the visiting Ledare och Violinsoloist (leader and violin soloist), Gilles Apap. Now I do, and am happy to share my experience and other information about him.

First, an impression of the evening’s presentation: it was performance art, wonderfully performed. The chamber orchestra under Mr. Apap executed the scheduled music in a manner unique to his leadership and manner.

I would call him a magnificently talented fiddler, rather than a violinist.  He walked the stage while playing, interacting with the other musicians with facial and hand gestures, and held his instrument in various ways against his chin, chest, and throat, as if it were a living part of this body.

He smiled and made other gestures toward us to include the audience in the great fun he and the other musicians were having—for this is what Mr. Apap brought to us through his leadership and performance.

What fun?

The program began with a familiar, standard piece, the Violin Concerto (BWV 1042) of J.S. Bach. This is one of Bach’s livelier pieces and was presented in such a manner that I instantly, erroneously, identified it as one of Vivaldi’s concertos—having seen Vivaldi’s name further down on the program. In any case, the piece had been modified and arranged, presumably by Mr. Apap, to be something more than Bach’s concerto. It was a variation on the master’s work, the master who remains the consummate writer of variations on his own themes within all the contrapuntal forms.

Having already anticipated something different by the casual and friendly behavior of Mr. Apap during the run-up to the concert’s beginning, we were suddenly onto him. He was taking delicious liberties with Bach and putting the orchestra through amazingly unusual paces to meet his intentions with the music. That the orchestra’s musicians played it straight, while Mr. Apap didn’t, provided us all the more enjoyment of this arrangement of Bach’s famous piece.

I hasten to add that this was not clownish behavior, nor disrespectful treatment of the music. The talents of Mr. Apap in rapid fingering and in bowing the strings through complex passages of his own making (and of Bach’s to be sure), showed us the depth of his familiarity with, and respect for, the piece being played. All the while, the orchestra was expertly following Mr. Apap’s lead and properly playing the modified music shown on the pages in front of them. Mr. Apap used no sheet music throughout the evening.

After the piece concluded (and we could not anticipate when it would), there was a brief pause while the audience perceived, yes, it was over, then we shouted and loudly clapped our hands in appreciation.

This seemed to bring a sense of relief to some of the orchestra members whom I perceived were not sure that the audience would appreciate this extraordinary version of the revered Johann Sebastian Bach. There were smiles among the members and, generally, grateful acknowledgement of the audience’s enthusiasm.

Next, Mr. Apap gave a solo performance not on the program, of a piece that sounded rather gypsy-like, yet not so easily categorized. The musical phrases were not western in aspect. I sometimes thought I heard musical reference to a muezzin’s call to prayer.

The audience gave warm approval to Mr. Apap’s playing of this music.

Then the French Mr. Apap announced (in lightly accented English) that the piece by Felix Mendelssohn he and the orchestra were about to play was written when the composer was fourteen years old. (String Symphony No. 10 in B minor). I was not familiar with the piece, so I can’t attest to how much of the piece was Mendelssohn and how much was Apap, but the performance clearly contained non-Germanic and, to my ear, non-Mendelssohn phrases. In any case, it was enjoyable and entertaining.

After the evening’s third round of applause, my seat-mate and I could not help but to turn to each other and comment on how much we were enjoying the performance (we had never met before this). Our conversation continued throughout the intermission.

The final piece of the evening was Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” set of concertos, in an arrangement by Mr. Apap for which he is well-known, according to the program notes (in Swedish, which Eva translated for me after the concert).

I hesitate to write anything about this performance for two reasons: words (or at least my words) cannot possibly bring to the reader its nature and impact; and, I don’t want to commit any spoilers for the reader who may have an opportunity to attend a future performance. I will say only there were unusual sounds, unusual behavior in both the leader and members of the orchestra, and, generally, a unique experience. The orchestra was simply superb in this most unusual of performances.

884501816991.255x255-75The three encores, two Irish reels and another folk-based piece, were performed without interruption. Before starting these Mr. Apap informed us of his love of folk music and of his participation with folk groups and gatherings, including having recorded with the Transylvanian Mountain Boys.

I believe I heard him say he now lives in California, in a small place between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I speculate it is around the Santa Ynez Valley.

Here are some links to further information about Mr. Apap:

Wikipedia

Home Page

Biography by AllMusic

I should mention another featured musician for the evening, playing the cembalo, Mr. Björn Gäfvert.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate Californian living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles and creative writing.
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