Avi Avital | Biography


Avi Avital
Please note that because of the Covid−19 pandemic, we are currently unable to provide reliable information about forthcoming live performances.
Music history proved unkind to the classical mandolin, whose popularity declined during the nineteenth century as tastes changed and more powerful orchestral instruments were developed. In recent years, however, Avi Avital has raised the mandolin’s international profile and revitalised its repertoire, moving it from the margins to the mainstream of concert life. “I see it as my mission to fill the historical gap in the mandolin repertoire, so there will be no shortage of good compositions for the instrument in future,” he comments. His eloquent artistry, applied to everything from daredevil transcriptions of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to over a hundred new commissions by composers such as Anna Clyne, Avner Dorman, David Bruce and Giovanni Sollima, combines jaw-dropping virtuosity, scintillating musicianship and expressive intensity.
Born in 1978 in the desert city of Beersheba (Be’er Sheva) in southern Israel, Avital began playing mandolin at the age of eight and promptly joined the local youth mandolin orchestra, a remarkable ensemble founded by the Russian-born violinist Simcha Nathanson, whose charismatic teaching and use of transcribed violin pieces left an indelible impression on the young Avi. “He taught me music,” he notes. “The instrument to me is not the point.”
After studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, Avital moved to Italy and absorbed lessons about the mandolin’s historic repertoire from Ugo Orlandi at the Cesare Pollini Conservatory in Padua. He soon broke with tradition, however, in search of a personal artistic identity. Encounters with different musical traditions and genres – from bluegrass and jazz to world music – and collaborations with his mentor, the great klezmer clarinettist Giora Feidman, prepared the way for his emergence as a mandolin pioneer.
Avital’s progress gathered speed in 2007 when he became the first mandolinist to win Israel’s Aviv Competition (for young musicians on the verge of a professional career), and continued with a succession of debut dates at, among other prestigious venues, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing and the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Since then, as well as appearing at the major international festivals and performing with the world’s leading orchestras, he has also forged close partnerships with other artists who share his openness to musical exploration, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, accordionist Ksenija Sidorova and percussionist Itamar Doari among them.
In 2010 Avital became the first mandolin player ever to be nominated for a Grammy® Award, when he was included in the “Best Instrumental Soloist” category for his recording of Avner Dorman’s Mandolin Concerto. He signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 2012 and launched his Yellow Label discography soon after with an album comprising his own arrangements of harpsichord and violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach. Avital signalled his commitment to new repertoire with his second DG album, Between Worlds (2014), a survey of works inspired by folk-music traditions, complete with compositions by Bartók, Bloch, Falla, Piazzolla, Tsintsadze and Villa-Lobos.
Released in 2015, Vivaldi presented the eponymous composer’s Mandolin Concerto and transcriptions of other concertos, including “Summer” from The Four Seasons, together with the traditional Venetian song “La biondina in gondoleta”, sung by Juan Diego Flórez. Avital Meets Avital, released in 2017, contains the rich fruits of a creative dialogue between Avi Avital and his namesake the Israeli-American jazz bassist, composer and bandleader Omer Avital. Most of the works recorded were specifically composed for the album, drawing on a range of musical traditions, including those of North Africa, the Balkans and Andalucia (“the sense of delight in making music together is so palpable that even when someone breaks into a solo … you get the feeling they can’t wait to take up the collective groove again. Utterly brilliant.” – Gramophone).
Avital’s latest album, Art of the Mandolin, released in November 2020, is a groundbreaking addition to his discography in that it is his first recording to consist entirely of original mandolin works. With music by Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti, Beethoven, Henze and Ben-Haim, as well as world premiere recordings of two new commissions by David Bruce and Giovanni Sollima, the album surveys three centuries of the classical mandolin repertoire, reflecting both its quality and its breadth.
Highlights of Avital’s 2019–20 season included giving the world premiere of Giovanni Sollima’s Mandolin Concerto with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, as well as the start of a new collaborative project with Sollima entitled Mediterraneo. Avital also made appearances with the Orchestre National de Lyon, Venice Baroque Orchestra, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Staatskapelle Weimar and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and performed repertoire from Avital meets Avital with Omer Avital at venues in Europe and Asia.
He began the current season by giving recitals with regular chamber-music partner, pianist Ohad Ben-Ari, in Köthen and Esslingen and performing Hummel’s Mandolin Concerto with the hr‑Sinfonieorchester under Ton Koopman. His forthcoming engagements include appearances in Germany with ensemble reflektor (December 2020) and performances of Avner Dorman’s Concerto at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie with the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg and Yutaka Sado (January/February 2021).
Follow Deutsche Grammophon online