First Encounters: Peter Walls meets Uri Caine

Peter alternate

Peter Walls

Our Chief Executive Peter Walls is very excited about the upcoming tour with jazz pianist/composer Uri Caine. Peter is our guest blogger in this First Encounters series.

Peter is known around the country for his expertise in early music. As he recounts in this blog post, one particular review of jazz pianist Uri Caine reinventing Bach was a musical revelation for him:

Uri Caine first attracted my attention in October 2000. I was spending a year in Oxford (England, not North Canterbury) and began every day by reading The Independent. One morning, I came across this review of a concert that Uri Caine had given in the converted Fiat factory in Turin, Italy:

“The bill announces a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which were written for solo keyboard; sure enough, there is a piano centre-stage.”

“Arranged around it, however, is an ensemble which might have surprised Bach. There’s a jazz quartet of clarinet, trumpet, double-bass and drums, with a violin thrown in for good measure. There are two vocalists, gospel singer Barbara Walker and vocal improviser David Moss. To one side, a viola da gamba quartet, which Bach would recognise; at the rear, a choir which the composer would certainly know what to do with. But what would he make of the twin-turntable console of DJ Olive, whose scratch’n’mix improvisations punctuate the performance?”

Uri Caine Primal Light

Uri Caine’s Primal Light

As I read on, it became clear that the reviewer was both surprised and delighted by what he heard. I headed straight down to Blackwell’s Music Shop and bought two Uri Caine CDs (beautifully produced albums with “notes” that consisted, in one case, entirely of drawings).

The first CD was Uri Caine’s Mahler; the other was a solo piano album. I was completely won over by his treatment of music that I knew and loved. Uri’s treatment of Mahler revealed a deep affection for this music but provided all sorts of insights too – this is what Mahler, looked at through a jazz performer’s lens, can look like. (The Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony is still one of my favourite tracks.)

More recently, I’ve been listening to his Goldberg Variations (a double CD set that I think was not yet available at the time of the Turin performance). It’s a revelation because Uri recognizes that Bach has something to say, not just to jazz musicians (something that Jacques Loussier and the Swingle Singers demonstrated decades ago) but to hard rock afficionados and, yes, to early music buffs, too. Each variation is given a fresh treatment – and we enjoy, by turns, countrapuntal mastery, addictive rhythms, an enormous variety in the character and style, and – last but not least – humour.

Uri Caine image

Uri Caine, pianist and composer. (Photo Credit: Bill Douthart)

In the lead up to his New Zealand tour, I’ve had the chance to talk to him about music. His creative engagement with the classics is quite inspiring. I am so looking forward to his solo concerts and (perhaps even more) to his performances with the New Zealand String Quartet (a superb group that has always been eager to embark on new adventures).

You can book online now for Uri Caine’s ten performances touring the country in March 2016.
All of the details are here:

Uri Caine is presented in Auckland in association with the Auckland Arts Festival; and in Wellington in association with the New Zealand Festival.



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