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Interview with Teodora Brody

Thursday, 23 November 2023 , ora 10.48

Singer Teodora Brody launched a new album: Rhapsody recorded together with the London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Robert Ziegler. Rhapsody includes vocal adaptations of famous themes from the classical music. We'll find more about the album from Teodora Brody herself, in an interview with Viorel Grecu.

Let's talk a bit about how the project started, about its roots, because I know there were some previous attempts before Rhapsody.

Indeed, Rhapsody has a history of its own. The album was initially designed and conceived based on George Enescu's Rhapsody No. 1 in A major, which we've experimented with it and practiced on it with musician Călin Grigoriu. After that, in 2019, we've been invited to George Enescu Festival and we've developed the project as a quartet. I've reached this quartet formation by having Răzvan Suma (cellist) and Joca Perpignan (brazillian percussion) as guests. So, it has expanded, we've brought new roots to the project, beside the pure Romanian one. After that, we've developed Rhapsody No. 2, the Canon, Béla Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances, and at some point, I felt the need for a very strong partner to support this vision. It is my vision and I strongly believe in it, that's why I need a strong partner.

Does this partner represent the entire orchestra?

The entire orchestra, certainly. This is the history of it, and we've reached Rhapsody, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra.

How did the repertoire evolved, how was it chosen? They are in fact well-known scores, even to those who haven't delved into classical music. The themes are familiar to everyone.

They are beautiful themes. I have chosen themes that I love: Moonlight Sonata (a hit!), Pachelbel's Canon in D Minor, Romanian Folk Dances (six Romanian dances of Béla Bartók) and George Enescu's Rhapsody No. 1 and No. 2.

However, your roots as a jazz singer are still there. There's also some swing, improvisation, including in the orchestration, not only in your singing style.

Yes, because they are all deeply rooted in me. I started singing jazz music because I loved it intensely, and somehow it settled in my soul, within me. Interestingly, afterward, I encountered Maria Tănase, who fascinated me with "doina". The encounter with it was extraordinarily important for my career; it somehow deepened my vision. So, both are present: jazz music and "doina." After that, I became curious and ventured into the music of the roots.

I have experimented with meetings and concerts alongside musicians with very different roots than mine, and I was very curios to see how would our very differents roots reacted together. Well, all of them became living experiences which are now surfacing. All this can be felt in my interpretation, that I gathered all of them and now they are like a suitcase "flowing" over everything that I'm doing. After listening to the Moonlight Sonata, someone said to me: "Can you imagine, you've "doina-ed" on the Moonlight Sonata. My interpretation overlaps all these melodies, this mixture of different styles dressed symphonically, but my expressiveness and my emotions come to the surface and make it characteristic of me.

You even added some lyrics to one of the pieces. Besides some Shouting on Enescu's Rhapsody, there's also a small poem on Béla Bartók.

In Rhapsody No. 2, there's a specific moment when there's maximum joy, a joy shared by the orchestra. It was designed by the orchestrator; they stopped, took their hands off the instruments and began to clap on the rhytm and celebrate.

Was there a climax?

Yes! And there was a certain shouting there. I personally added it. This is how I felt, and I think it suits very well. And in Béla Bartók's Romanian Folk Dance No. 3, I felt the inspiration of the doina. In fact, the source of inspiration and creativity is deeply felt in the music of both Enescu and Bartók as the doina. And I have composed some lyrics for it.

The album actually ends with an a cappella moment. The orchestra remains silent at some point. Can you tell us the story behind the "doina" on the Rhapsody?

There is a beautiful history surrounding this "doina", which happened in the studio. For two days I recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, at St. Luke's Church. Those two days were full, with 8-10 hours of daily recordings. At the end of it, the orchestra left, the silence fell over the studio, and I sat there with the producer, the orchestrator and the sound engineers. We were talking about these Romanian modulations and about my inspiration, and then I started relating about this "doina", what it meant, and that for us it was like the gospel. "Doina" was like a gate for me, one which creates depth, a transcendental space. It means more than a musical style. They were listening, not understanding too much of what I was saying. For them, what I was saying were mere words. And so, I said to them: "do you want to hear a doina?". I started singing in that vocal booth. "Go to the microphone!". I got there and I sang one doina, then two, then three. They liked it a lot, and they chose this doina for the CD.

So it wasn't meant to be on the CD.

It wasn't, not at all. Having a partner like the London Symphony Orchestra, I never thought that I would sing something solo there. The doina was added and I think it's a good piece of inspiration.

How can you describe the interaction with the orchestra musicians, with the conductor, Robert Ziegler, and all the people you worked with-individuals who have seen much in their careers and have worked, in turn, with great musicians?

I was somehow afraid before meetng them. I was afraid, how can one not be? And I went to Barbican the evening before; they had a concert, and I wantedd to get accustomed to their sound because it's so powerful. I get emotional, and sometimes if I'm too emotional I can't even speak. I wanted to get used to how they sounded. And I went the night before, it was like magic, and I also went the next day...

With a different attitude!

Yes, they were now in my soul, it wasn't a suprise anymore. And it really was a beautiful interaction. They are versatile musicians, they can sing anything, and at the same time, the orchestrator was saying that you can feel it when they enjoy it. You can feel the passion. They are all top-tier instrumentalists, and when passion, interest, and joy come together, it's something like a sudden burst, like a sound of nature. The orchestrator's name is Lee Reynolds. I have worked with him for a year on these musical arrangements, and we communicated well. He was asking for my opinion, I would say what I wanted, how I envisioned the piece, and he would send it back to me. "How do you like it?", "Do you like it?". And we continued working, it was like we were glued to each other.

Unfortunately, Lee Reynolds, ( this was during COVID ), went into quarantine exactly the night before the recordings. He was supposed to conduct, as he knew everything. When I arrived the next day at the studio, as no one had informed me the night before, I was told, "Lee won't come; Robert Ziegler will be the conductor". He is a very good conductor, he immediately adapted and was surprised.

He said, "It's eclectic music, it has a lot of power, you need to know its nuances." It took a bit for the whole story to settle, for him to understand it, as he came directly from home, into a project he didn't know. And it turned out beautifully; everyone was very receptive. It was obvious that they were professionals. Everyone put their shoulder to the wheel in order for something beautiful to happen.

Regarding the CD, can you tell us how to find it, in what form? We want concrete details about its availability.

The CD can be found in all Cărturești bookstores, both physical and online. I'm glad it's out on this time of the year, when people need joy. Christmas is coming and I believe it will be appreciated in people's homes.

It fits well with the atmosphere of this period, even though it's not a Christmas album.

That's right, it wasn't thought to be one, these things are not entirely accidental, and I can now see it this way, a beautiful Christmas gift.

Are there any other projects beside Rhapsody that you want to talk about? What else are you preparing for us? Are you carryon on the Impromptu sessions, do you have any other albums in progress?

I have this immense creativity that need to be well coordinated because I could frolic in all areas. I'm an artist who loves the stage and loves performing in front of the audience. So, we'll certainly have concerts, both Impromptu and classical. That's why we're here. We'll announce and keep you updated because we need you to be with us.

Translated by Georgiana Morozii,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu