Gilles Apap and the Colors of Invention

New voices for classical music

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Gilles Apap is dedicated to not killing music.

Throughout his classical career, the virtuoso violinist has embraced the worlds of ethnic and folk music. He's recorded the music of Bartok and the sonatas of Enescu, Ravel and Debussy, as well as three albums of Romanian Gypsy music.

"I can't play the same things too often," he said. "Music kills itself if it doesn't have the glow. To keep it alive you have to change, meet different people and different musicians."

Apap, 38, and his newest band, the Colors of Invention, will perform two shows Saturday in Juneau. This Alaska tour will mark his fourth performance in the capital city. He's come twice with pianist Eric Ferrand N'Kaoua and once with the Transylvanian Mountain Boys.

Apap was born in Africa to French parents and grew up in France. He lives in Southern California and has been the concertmaster of the Santa Barbara Symphony for 12 years. He's been featured in several documentary films, conducted symphonies and won honors at international music competitions. He's also jammed in Irish pubs, with master musicians in India and with Tibetan folk musicians in the Himalayas.

"He brings a mix of styles to the stage," said Liz Saya, a Juneau friend of Apap who has volunteered to produce the concert as a benefit for the Alaska Folk Festival. "He's allowed informality to enter into the classical realm."

This concert tour comes on the heels of a new recording with the Colors of Invention called "No Piano on That One," which includes classical and gypsy music. The band has another recording in the works, an interpretation of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." The concert will feature music from both projects.

Saya said Apap keeps the genres pure and separate, but presents samples of styles he mastered.

"He's not trying to make bluegrass more classical or anything like that," she said. "His concerts are seven-eighths classical, but he's using different instruments. I mean the 'Four Seasons' has been done and done and done. But never like this."

In addition to the violinist, the group includes Mimi Lafar, a classically trained accordionist who has mastered traditional Italian, German and Portuguese styles; classical and jazz bassist Philippe Noharet; and Czech-born cymbalum virtuoso Ludovit Kovak.

Apap compared the cymbalum to the hammer dulcimer.

"It's such a common instrument in Europe, but they don't know about them in this country," he said.

The Colors of Invention started as a recording project, not a band, Apap said.

"I wanted to take some classics, violin standards, and I just wanted to change the sounds of it," he said. "I ended up calling a childhood friend of mine who plays bass, and he hooked me up with the other guys."

Piano usually accompanies violin in showcases of classic works - thus the title of the CD. Apap wanted to include some gypsy music on the recording, and liked the tone and musical textures of the cymbalum.

"I thought the colors would be beautiful," he said. "I wanted some accordion, too, for these waltzes I wanted to record, to change the sound. So Mimi came in from the southwest of France."

Bassist Noharet and Apap grew up together in Nice, in southern France, and have been friends since they were 7. Noharet now lives in Paris and plays with the Paris Opera and the groups Ensemble Carpe Diem and TM+.

Kovac, 33, the cymbalum player, trained at the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest, Hungary, and has performed as a soloist with orchestras, including the Berlin Symphony. He is married to French composer, violinist and pianist Flora Thalassa and lives in France.

"He is a family man. Philippe is too; they both have kids," Apap said. "So it is great that they can come to Alaska for these concerts."

The concerts Saturday will include excerpts from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." The Colors of Invention give different voices to the musical suite.

"We change the sounds," Apap said. "The cymbalum player can play the harpsichord part, and the accordion plays the orchestra part, the bass player can play the cello part on bass, so we have a nice little orchestra."

The downside is the weight. The cymbalum is table-sized and weighs 150 pounds. Apap said the accordion is a classical instrument with more than 200 keys and buttons.

"It's so beautiful, but it's a heavy load," he said. "With the cymbalum, the double bass and the accordion we are the heaviest band."

Apap will record the "Four Seasons" with the Colors of Invention, then plans to make a recording with a group of Polish musicians, the Warsaw Chamber Orchestra. In between he said he'll be playing old-timey and Irish music.

Apap and the Colors of Invention will perform at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Northern Light United Church. Tickets are $18, $9 for children, available in advance at Hearthside Books or for $20 at the door.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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