Music may travel you to places where you’ve never been. However, it’s not that often that musicians will breathe their soul into yours, while performing. And this is the case of Duo Aster. I saw them performing at the Open Platform for Artistic Research of Music Diaries International Workshop Festival 2018. I was intrigued by Clio breathing her soul into her saxophone, and at the absolute bonding the duet had; playing as if they were one musician. No distinctions between the “leading” and the “accompanying” part could be made. No distinctions between the musician and his/her instrument. Just one body performing music. Fortunately, sometime after their concert and before leaving the city, we managed to meet.
Duo Aster is a new duet, comprising of Clio Theodoridis and Jonathan Nemtanu. They come from Canada, or rather not exactly…. Their project invites the audience to immerse into the ambiance of romantic Paris, as well as after-war Paris and the Paris of today. They wish to draw in our imagination “The City of Light”, and guide us through a sound trip, where the saxophone is heard performing roles incompatible with the jazz “rumors” that follow it.
We met at a terrace with a view of the night lights of Thessaloniki, after their performance. We discussed on their project “Paris au fil du Temps” (Paris through Time), on the musics they carry in their luggage, moving from place to place having their music as a guide.
So, how did this project begin?
Clio: We started playing together about one year ago… But the project is pretty new… we commenced it about six months ago. We met at Montreal University where I was doing my MA and Jonathan his PhD, both in interpretation. I was looking for a pianist to perform the Franck Sonata. Jonathan was interested in playing this piece together, so we began rehearsals. And after the recital for the degree, we decided to commence the Project.
And what is the story of your “name”?
Clio: Well, “Aster” is the name for, a wild flower, pretty nice, that you can find up in the mountains of France, more specificly in ‘’Vercors’’.
Have you connected your name with your repertory or something….?
Jonathan: No… We just liked it, and we wanted some kind of “frame” to put our music in… no further thought. We didn’t think actually of explaining it to someone…
Clio: Later, we were told that “Aster” in Creole means “hello”, but we didn’t know it when we chose the word for our name.
It was really interesting the way you chose to present your concert within a frame of story…
Jonathan: Well, it’s difficult to fill nowadays concert halls, so we wanted to make a context for what we wanted to tell. To encourage the imagination of the audience, make a story to present it to the people. The world has changed, but the form of the concert hasn’t changed. So we wanted to find an interesting way to reach the audience…
Clio: … have a story to “guide” in some way the audience through the music we wanted to play….
And now the story was “Paris through Time”. It is a specific city, where so many cultures coexist, sometimes even non-French, but still regarded as French. What does this mean to you?
Clio: Actually, we have always been foreigners. I was born in Greece, but my mother is French, so I was regarded at some point as “foreigner”. Then, I went to France, but since I came from Greece, I was also regarded as “foreigner”, and then to Canada, where I was once again somehow “foreigner”… I have been taught the French technique to play the saxophone, but I have added all I have brought from Greece.
Jonathan: Actually, I have been brought up in Paris, but of Romanian and Scottish origins, and if I go back, my origins can be tracked down in several countries of Europe, even in Eastern Mediterranean. And as soon as I was eighteen years old, I left my home and have lived in other countries, too, for my music studies. However, we regard ourselves as French musicians.
Clio: We regard ourselves as French musicians, because we have been taught the French technique, the way we play shows that we are part of the French School.
Jonathan: I feel French, because I became a pianist in France. I learned to play the piano in France, technique etc. But I also learned how to interpret, how to “make music” in Canada… There is a difference between these two…
Clio: And we have also picked up Paris, because always, in the past, nowadays, you can find so many mixes of cultures, you may find so many different cultures, new mixes of cultures. There are migrants, people of so many countries that live now in France, people from the former colonies of France… and also there are many people of other countries who come to Paris, for example, to study music, and then they stay in Paris. They bring their own cultures with them, but they live in Paris.
Jonathan: We wanted to share what we know about Paris… In Paris, Debussy created his distinct music… As well as other composers, too… But we should also have in mind, that synchronous to Debussy, was for example Wagner, a grave example of the German musical tradition… So, French had to create music distinct, as, in opposition to the main features of the German tradition… But, of course, common elements cannot but be traced…
Clio: And of course, at that time, there was also the well-known French Exhibition that had an impact..
Jonathan: There’s always something that makes connections with other cultures.
Have you presented the specific project elsewhere?
Clio: It’s the first time that we present it in audience. We have played some of these pieces before, but it wasn’t in the context of this project. And we have thoughts of developing it, and presenting it in concerts. For example, we will present this concert again in Greece in March at the Greek National Radio (ERT).
Ciesla’s “Ocre Rouge” has elements of the folk tradition, of the popular genre of klezmer. However this piece is regarded as art music. What are your thoughts on it?
Jonathan: This piece can be played and regarded as part of the art music. However, whether or not will be a “popular” piece of art music is pretty early to know yet. For a piece to be famous, you need people to know it. This one can be played as part of art music. It is very “classical”, but yet “very fun”. It may sound easy, but for sure it’s not. And it highly contradicts with the logic of the Franck Sonata. While the Franck Sonata is a trip with a beginning and an end, slow, encouraging intern thinking, in Ciesla’s “Ocre Rouge”, you have the oral tradition, turned into a written score. Its logic is different.
How did you build the repertory for the concert? Did the music come first or the story?
Clio: First of all, we chose pieces we liked. For example, I was looking for a pianist to play the Franck Sonata, and Jonathan, really liked to play it.
Jonathan: I come from a violinist family –the Franck Sonata was originally written for a violin. So, I proposed to play it –why not with saxophone?-, and she agreed. It’ s fun playing pieces like the ones we have chosen, trying to understand their identities, the flow of each piece… find something special in each piece. Franck was of Belgian descent, but regarded as a French composer, Alexis Ciesla is French, yet “Ocre Rouge” refers to klezmer, Fuminori Tanada is Japanese, yet he’s lived and composed in Paris, and “Mysterious Morning” is part of the French saxophone repertory.
Clio: In the beginning we had the pieces. We found a link. There are common places in sound. Despite being pieces of different composers, having differences in style, there are points where the sound should be really precise, detached, as if you speak French. There are similar points between the language and the way you have to play according to the French School. Despite the echoes of the different cultures you may hear in the pieces they are French. And if we think of Paris historically, we’ll see that all along it has been multinational. And yet it represents France. Similarly, all these pieces represent France of today.
Jonathan: In Paris you see the classes. You have people from other countries coming to Paris, to work, to live, to study music. Some of them stay there…
Clio: … and then they give birth to something new… Actually, something like this happened also with me, since I originally don’t come from France, but I have lived and been taught music there.
Jonathan: And also, if you’re a musician, you never know, where you’ll end up in order to play your music, especially if you want to live on music. After all, it’s a difficult world for musicians…. It’s always have been.
Clio: Yes, because culture is not thought as important, it is underestimated. It’s really common that it’s not understood what we do as musicians. For example, it has happened to me to say that I’m a musician, and the other answers to me, “yes… I was taught flute, when I was at primary school”, but of course it’s not the same. Being a professional musician demands much more than this… Or somebody has asked me “ok… and which is your job?”. In big cities in Canada, it might not be that difficult, but now that we’ll go to Chicoutimi, a provincial city in Canada, since Jonathan will teach in a Conservatory there, we’ll see.
Jonathan: Of course, apart from getting a living on music, it’s really important for us that we show our music. This is why we played in Greece, too.
Clio: We’d like to show saxophone to the Greek, because Greece is my country. We’d like to show that saxophone is not just an instrument to play jazz, but has so many possibilities. And it’s, let’s say, the vision of a young interpreter to show people the possibilities of the instrument.
Jonathan: Our goal is to show saxophone. I want music to be recognized. Saxophone is a new instrument, and I want it to be recognized, to show the possibilities it has as a musical instrument. This is why we perform in concerts. Ok, it’s our job, but it’s also nice when you know, that people might find out new, great music because of you, or they might begin also learning the same instrument, after listening you play. And such a thing has happened.
Duo Aster played at the concert in Open Platform for Artistic Research of Music Diaries International Workshop Festival 2018:
César Franck– Sonate in A major for violin (1st and 4th movement)
Alexis Ciesla– Ocre Rouge
Fuminori Tanada– Mysterious Morning
Jonathan and Clio are scheduling various concerts solo, as well as Duo Aster, all around the world.
Clio and “Ensemble Saxologie” will perform on August 29, 30 at Maison Symphonique de Montréal.
Jonathan will perform solo and with violin in the Petit Theatre in Paris in October 12, 13, 14.
Last but not least! Duo Aster will perform for Trito Programma ERT Greece on 29th March 2019.