Saturday, May 07, 2005

Trouble in Latin America? (also about the cello!)

Latin America seems likely to push its way to the front burner over the next couple of years. I've spent a lot of time various places there over the years - Peru, Guatemala, Panama, etc. I think I'm going to start spending more time on it. I'm the classic case of someone who started out in international law and related topics like human rights and laws of war in the 1980s Central American wars, and then over time shifted other places, such as Yugoslavia, the Iraq, and Central Asia. A lot of journalists and other international hanger on types who started out in the 1980s have done exactly the same thing. But I think the pendulum is swinging back to instability in Latin America, revolving around the trouble called Chavez. It's not just Chavez, of course, but when it comes to instability across borders, it's about Chavez.

One person who has stayed with Latin America throughout all of this is David Holiday - a friend I haven't seen enough of during these years, but who has stayed on in Central America (he has just returned to Maine from Salvador). He and I have some big policy disagreements, of course, as I've tilted right over the years, but he's a great guy and I get a lot out of reading his blog, and you should read it too, to start coming up to speed on developments in Latin America. Read it here.

(I should also add - and this is much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much more important than politics - David and I share a common interest in the cello! He plays much better than I - and although he gave it up when he first went to Central America, he has acquired an electric cello, a Yamaha electric cello that you use with an amplifier, and has played with a little combo, singer, guitarist, cellist, in clubs in San Salvador. At one point, on his web site, David had posted some audio of a performance in Salvador - it was great and I admit to great envy. Check it out here.

I was never really very good - I quit at too young an age and anyway didn't practice enough even then - but took it back up a few years ago, and then got much more serious about it when I got my daughter playing it as a kid. She has taken lessons here in DC for a few years, and while we were in Spain last year, we both took lessons from a wonderful teacher who plays with the Sevilla symphony orchestra. I have a strong passion for early Baroque - I have been working (with great slowness, alas) on a couple of Corelli violin sonatas transcribed for cello, and works by the first real composer for the cello, Domenico Gabrielli, and most recently a gamba sonata transcribed for cello by Buxtehude. As I write this, I am listening to a lovely CD of Antonio Caldara sonatas, trio violin sonatas interspersed with early solo cello sonatas with just an accompanying cello as basso continuo.

But I also love cello in other settings - I love to play Broadway songs, jazz numbers when I can figure them out and they're not too hard, bluegrass, all that stuff, on cello, and I love to hear good cellists do it - I love Matt Heimovitz's version of Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner on cello. I wish some like him would do a version of Santana's Europa on cello. Also, I think a lot of older jazz and blues works well with cello playing the solo guitar parts - slower, and more melodic use of blues electric guitar. If Regina Carter and Kenny Barron can do such wonderful piano/violin jazz, why can't a great cellist do the same thing? It doesn't have to be Yo Yo Ma - there are a lot of great young cellists out there with a yen for musical adventure. (I saw a fabulous cellist when I happened to catch the American Repertory Theatre (Cambridge MA) production a year ago of Oedipus Rex - it was a stunning production, really wonderful, and yet I was distracted by the fact that the music consisted of this super-contemporary combo, with a wonderful cellist, all wired up with a pedal to switch effects - she played so well, I had trouble keeping my mind on the play, which was also great.)

And I would truly love to find/figure out, for me, a transcription of the great Argentine piece Concierto para una sola voz - if any one knows where I can obtain the sheet music, in any form, for voice, whatever, I'd love to know.

So - now you all know my secret passion. Which must remain secret because I really am a terrible cellist - this is unfortunately not false modesty.)

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