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3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition

Ian Patterson By

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Layth Sidiq wasted no time in warming up, launching into the lively original tune "The Fog," one of two original compositions. Drawing on the melody of an Arabic tune, Sidiq's seductive playing interwove Middle Eastern and Western tonalities to stirring effect. The finale, with bowed bass, rumbling mallets, high-register piano stirrings and softly singing violin, had an achingly poetic quality. Sidiq raised his own bar still higher on the unaccompanied "Letter to Paco," a moving tribute to Paco De Lucia that embraced the confluence of musical cultures in Andalucía. Tender and visceral in turn, this self-penned composition showcased Sidiq's measured virtuosity. With a small shaker, Sidiq joined in the rhythmic introduction to Seifert's "On the Farm," a thrilling workout that saw Sidiq's most uninhibited improvisation. Stepping aside as a fired-up Wania took over, Sidiq returned for the head, visited briefly before a conclusion of dramatic abruptness.

Gabriel Terracciano

Gabriel Terracciano opened his final account with a violin and drum dialogue that announced Coltrane's harmonically dense "26-2." Wania was the first to solo, over Mucha's fast-walking bass and Fortuna's industry, before Terracciano picked up the thread. Unfortunately, his pick-up was not properly placed, resulting in a slightly distant, tinny sound. This technical glitch, however, didn't detract from Terracciano's playing -adventurous but always melodic. For Carl Fischer/Bill Carey's "You've Changed," Terracciano adjusted his pick-up and restored his true sound. A nicely edgy exchange with Wania blossomed into collective lyricism, with Fortuna's brushes underpinning Terracciano's delightfully laid-back, Stephane Grappelli-esque soloing. This composition bled into Seifert's "Man of the Light," where Terracciano's unaccompanied intro, impressionist, raw and bluesy in turn, drew appreciative applause from the audience. The rhythm section arrived with energy, Terracciano ceding to the ever-impressive Wania before the violinist unleashed his most expansive and thrilling improvisation of the competition -a strong statement to close with.

Mario Forte

Choosing "Chinatown"—one of Seifert's lesser known tunes—to begin the final with, was a bold move from Forte, but perhaps in keeping with a musician who had stood out for his personal approach to the violin and to the jazz/improvised idiom. The up-tempo nature of the composition provided Forte with the opportunity to really extend himself, which he did to spectacular effect. In an uninterrupted performance, Forte built upon a delicate, unaccompanied pizzicato motif, injecting rhythmic gusto with the intervention of the trio. Pedal effects colored a contemporary, Pat Metheny-esque melodic line. Switching back to unplugged terrain, Forte's dancing improvisation was spellbinding, his attack as uplifting as it was exhilarating. Forte's energy transmitted to the other musicians, with Fortuna delivering one of his most spectacular solos of the three days. When the heat had subsided, Forte triggered ambient loops of industrial insistence, eventually drawing from his strings both synthesized and acoustic sonorities that, aided by loops, dovetailed to highly atmospheric effect.

Cécile Delzant

Last, but by no means least, Cécile Delzant once more offered a bold programme that, in addition to Seifert's "Man of the Light," also presented Ornette Coleman's "Peace" and the original composition "Magic, My Child." A misunderstanding with the rhythm section at the outset, where Delzant played unaccompanied without support only implied a slight delay in the real business, and, once everybody was on track, Delzant launched the quartet with a mazy, hypnotic solo that fired Wania to similar heights. The comparative tranquillity of the intro to Coleman's "Peace" cast a quiet spell, with Mucha's bowed bass lyricism to the fore; raising the tempo, Delzant's offered an extended improvisation, utterly devoid of cliché. Seifert's "Man of the Light" brought forth tremendously flowing and exciting soloing from the violinist.

Who would be a judge? The difficult task of deciding the three winners took the panel of judges a couple of hours. Once more, the musicians assembled and, after congratulating all five finalists, Michal Urbaniak revealed the results. In no particular order—the placing of first, second and third would take place the next night at a gala evening in Kraków-the names of Gabriel Terracciano, Mario Forte and Layth Sidiq were announced. Cheers and applause rang out form those gathered and all the musicians warmly embraced and congratulated the three musicians.

Gala Night: Announcement of Winner

The following morning a bus departed for Kraków with the musicians. There was the guts of the day to explore the handsome streets of the city before gathering at Kijow Centrum, a former cinema turned concert hall, for the announcement of first, second and third place in the competition. The emcee for the evening, as for the previous three days, Janusz Jablonski, introduced a number of dignitaries, including the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation's President, Aneta-Norek-Skrycka. As the event was being televised by Polish National Television all the speeches and presentations were, naturally enough, delivered in Polish.

Before the three violinists learnt of their final positions, Amalia Obrębowska was presented with the audience prize, as voted by those who watched the semi- finals. The popular vote for Obrębowska was well merited, and indeed, she could consider herself a little unlucky not to have advanced to the final. The third place prize in the 3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Violin Competition went to Gabriel Terracciano. Second place was awarded to Layth Sidiq. First place went to Mario Forte. The three musicians each played a composition, backed as ever by the tireless Dominik Wania Trio. Perhaps, with the tension of competition gone, all three violinists played quite beautifully, and with a spirit of freedom. There then followed a short intermission, a breather before a very special concert.

John Scofield, John Medeski & The Konglomerat Big Band

Fittingly, the program of the nineteen-piece Konglomerat Big Band saw special arrangements of Zbigniew Seifert's compositions, with each arrangement by a different member of the band. The participation of John Scofield was another nice touch, as the guitarist had recorded with Seifert on the violinist's album Passion (Capitol, 1979). Scofield was in laid back mode on "Coral" and played a particularly seductive, bluesy solo on "City of Spring," with John Medeski animated on organ. Seifert's compositions translated very well to a big band setting, with muted trumpets adding a new dimension to "Song for Christopher" -one of Seifert's most beautiful works. The cantering rhythms of "Kilimanjaro" sparked a gutsy response from Scofield, though it was the sweeping brass arrangement that stole the show.

A Scofield and Medeski duet, "Dedicated to Zbiggy," was in fact a blues-edged reworking of "Summertime." Medeski, on piano, and Scofield, both took extended solos, though there was little in the way of interplay, with Medeski maintaining a vampish rhythm as Scofield soloed, and the guitarist laying out as Medeski stepped up. Scofield wove quietly mesmeric lines on an epic arrangement of "Where Are You From?, with Medeski feverish organ improvisation equally persuasive. A West African groove colored the intro to the vibrant "Spring on the Farm," which featured Scofield, and an excellent trombone solo.

"I was so lucky to get to play with Zbiggy, almost forty years ago," Scofield told the crowd between songs. "I'll never forget when I got the chance to play with him because it was really my first chance to play a kind of modern jazz that I was practising and working on, and he heard that in me." Scofield praised the competition organizers and the musicians themselves. "I think that the violin is actually the jazz instrument of the future, because it's maybe the most beautiful instrument. We need more jazz violinists." There was just time for a passionate version of "Turbulent Plover"—so popular among the competition's contestants in the first three editions—with layered brass lines making for an a colorful arrangement. The encore, "Coral," a quite distinct version form the opening number, saw lively closing statements from Scofield, and Medeski on piano, but the final word went to the collective voice of the excellent Konglomerat Big Band.

Wrap-up

Congratulations must go to Mario Forte. It was brave, having finished third two years ago, to enter the competition again, as the risk of greater disappointment was always a possibility. With perseverance and great self-belief, Forte triumphed, and most would say deservedly so; a highly talented musican of whom we are likely to hear much more in the future. Congratulations too, to Layth Sidiq and Gabriel Terracciano, for their outstanding performances. Equally, congratulations are also due to all the other contestants for making the 3rd Sbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition such a wonderful event. It's a rare privilege to hear so many world-class jazz/ improvising string players at such close quarters.

Judging by the record number of applicants for the competition, the increased number of contestants and the large audience for the final in Luslawice, the Zbigniew Seifert International Violin Competition is going from strength to strength. In an event of this magnitude, there are many people involved behind the scenes, including all those who work throughout the year for the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation. However, for the four days of this year's completion, the tireless efforts of organizers Aneta Norek-Skrycka, Magdalena Warejko and Tomasz Handzik, to ensure that everything ran as smoothly as possible, must be applauded. It is largely thanks to their efforts that the name of Zbigniew Seifert is gaining lasting international renown.

The 4th Zbigniew Seifert International Violin Competition will be held in 2020. For violinist, violists and cellists interested in applying, keep an eye open for updates on the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation website.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Janusz Stefański and Tomasz Stańko.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation.
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