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Interview with conductor Simona Strungaru

Tuesday, 2 May 2023 , ora 10.13

The Magic of Duke Ellington is a new concert by the Radio's Big Band, scheduled for Thursday evening at 19:00. Live performances of compositions from the repertoire of one of the greatest artists in the history of jazz will be performed on the stage of the Radio Hall. We will find out more about the Duke Ellington concert from Simona Strungaru, conductor of the Radio's Big Band.

First of all, let's talk about the programme, will it be a Greatest Hits Best Off concert, given Duke Ellington's vast repertoire, or will we also hear more rare pieces?

There are works, both very well-known and lesser known works and that's very good, because they are not necessarily lesser known because they are not of very high quality, but simply because they have been played less often and we are happy to be able to show the many facets of this great musician's personality.

Are the orchestral arrangements the old ones signed by Billy Strayhorn or other Duke Ellington's collaboratos or are they more modern, original versions?

They are transcriptions of the original versions.

Strictly referring to Duke Ellington, he was always a visionary. He always kept up with the times, even though jazz had changed during his long career. I'm asking you now as a practitioner of big band jazz, to what extent in 2023, is Duke Ellington a modern day, cool musician, let's use a term that comes from jazz?

He's a very cool musician and very inspired because he allowed himself to intimately explore the personalities of the musicians he worked with, in the meaning that he wasn't just writing music for any big band just to play some saxophones. He had a very close professional relationship with the people who were in his orchestra and so there were a lot of stuff written specifically for those players. That interest in individual musicianship is something a lot of people should think about when writing for people they know, of course, which is to explore and exploit the best of the people you work with, because that way you also allow them to express themselves and bring out the best in them.

So we should understand that this will carry over into Thursday night's Big Band concert.

Of course. It's a strictly instrumental concert, we don't have a singer this time and there are many solo moments performed by Big Band members.

The concert is part of a cycle basically, it was The Magic of Chick Corea, now The Magic of Duke Ellington. Are you planning more concerts like this in the near future?

Yes, on 22nd of June, the closing concert of this year's Big Band Radio season will be The Magic of Buddy Rich, with drummer Laurențiu Zmău as soloist.

Interview by Viorel Grecu
Translated by Anca Cristina Georgiana Mihai,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu