The Mediterranean sounds filled St Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland from a master of violin, Italian born Luca Ciarla last night. Brought to New Zealand by the Italian Embassy of Wellington, Ciarla completed a six-concert tour of the country in the inner city church. Asked how he finds things in Aotearoa as compared to other parts of the world, Ciarla admitted the chilled out vibe here was sometimes a little too cool in response. I promised to make some noise in support of his performance but was pleased to see that the audience, although a little sparse, was listening intently and responded warmly.
Luca Ciarla has been performing all over the world in collaborations and solo for some years and is a master of his craft. As comfortable in classical as he is in jazz or world music, his is a truly universal sound. In his musical life, Ciarla performs in seventy to one-hundred concerts in a year and tonight he was performing with his solo project, his solOrkestra project.
A one-man band became the whole orchestra with an array of string-playing styles. The violin was bowed, twanged, rhythmically tapped, and even sung into. But not only a virtuoso of the violin, Ciarla has astonishing skills using the loop pedal. A technology that has been around since the 1970s and used in rock and indie music, the loop sometimes makes a too frequent appearance until the original performing is lost. But Ciarla used it in subtle and beautiful layering, building up loops of his live playing until the audience is surrounded by a full ensemble sound.
Far from being just a clever exposé of technology then, this is a real art form in which Ciarla creates layers which evolve and blend. In the opening piece, he created sounds from Eastern Europe with some voice doubling his violin. It was a beautiful start and almost reverential tones were echoed in the arches of the church. Unfortunately, a few issues with sound balance and feedback interrupted briefly... using a loop live conceivably is a risk in such a reverberant acoustic.
In song two, Ciarla added to his virtuosic skills with some pro whistling. This was a melodic jazz piece in which he created a choir of vocal sounds then added, well, of course, a kazoo. But not just jazz sounds, in parts he played his fiddle in a style more akin to Vivaldi than Grappelli. The piece ended with a swoon from the pedal and punctuation from a kiddie plastic whistle. So fun!
Ciarla is a virtuosic instrumentalist with a very colourful toolbox - violin, loop and modulation pedals, kazoo, whistling and singing, mouth clicks and thumb taps, plastic whistles and even an ocarina. In La Canzone Di Marinella, a folk song by Italian national poet Fabrizio de André, Ciarla charmed the audience with soft almost Bossanova-style vocals and a sweet violin melody.
Bella Ciao was another Italian folk song, originally sung by freedom fighters in the Italian Mountains resisting Nazism and fascism in World War II, the song signifies unification and democratic rights. A melodica or mouth keyboard added notes of piano accordion and some Bach-like riffs on violin.
A highlight was Ciarla’s version of Astor Piazzolla's Libertango with the bow bouncing percussively on the violin strings, with complex cross-rhythms and biting tango edge. A fantastic fusion of violin and an absolute mastery of looping. Also beautiful was Ciarla’s own composition titled Albero Democrazia or ‘democracy of the trees’ with soft thumb knocks creating branches knocking together and a susurration of spoken and sung phrases.
Finally, an imaginative piece in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach with a crazy flavour of Tarantella, a dance that imitated the madness from the bite of a tarantula. The audience stood and clapped for more and Ciarla seemed pleased to oblige as Aucklanders gave him a warm send-off from this cool country of ours.
Ciarla brought all the toys out to play for a fun encore to end his tour of New Zealand. This was a good opportunity to hear this Italian artist, brought to New Zealand by the generosity of the Italian Embassy of Wellington. Luca Ciarla is an excellent ambassador for Italy and it’s cultural riches.