The World

Finally today, we travel through time with the help of an unusual quintet from the Netherlands. The World’s Adeline Sire has today’s Global Hit. This, is the sound of Calefax.

Ok, sounds like a Renaissance band, right? Well not quite. That’s the overture from Tchaikovski’s The Nutcracker. OK, so Calefax, more of a classical ensemble? Not entirely. That’s the group’s arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s 1930s song “Lush Life.”

All of these are on a CD called “600 years of Calefax.” It showcases the incredibly versatile chops of this all-reed quintet. The pieces range from the 15th to the 21st century. That’s what makes this ensemble so difficult to classify. The quintet was founded 23 years ago in Amsterdam when some of the members were still in high school. Reed quintets are rare. In fact, Alban Wesly, one the group’s founding members, says they were the first to do it professionally.

ALBAN WESLY: The quintet is a unique or was a unique setting…. The repertoire began with us either by transcribing or by commissioning pieces.

In the past few years, Calefax has spawned other reed quintets around the world, in Australia, Japan, Argentina, Holland and the United States. Alban Wesly says he feels pretty good about that because as a student, he was discouraged to play professionally. That just goaded him on. Something he says he has in common with the fastest swimmer in the world.

ALBAN WESLY: Michael Phelps, I was so astonished….it was a motivation in a way to prove he was wrong.

And Wesly’s done that. Today, his quintet plays everywhere, from the dignified Frick Collection in New York City to a hip music venue in Istanbul. They have music for every occasion. And they write their own customized arrangements, paying great attention to historical stylistic details. Wesly says their arrangements often enhance the character of the music. Take for instance a harpsichord suite by 18th century French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.

ALBAN WESLY: There’s this one piece, “La Poule” or “the hen”….on a harpsichord.

Here’s the piece on the harpsichord. And here it is played by Calefax.

Calefax also plays the music of Ravel, Debussy and major works by Bach, “The Art of Fugue” and the “Goldberg Variations”… But one composer they keep returning to is Duke Ellington. The quintet has joined with a jazz trio to perform Ellington’s Far East Suite�

Duke Ellington and his orchestra recorded The Far East suite in 1966 <> in New York. It was inspired by a tour the orchestra had taken to Japan and the middle east. Though the tour almost didn’t happen.

ALBAN WESLY: The tour was cancelled because of JFK’s death…our wish is to redo this tour.

And the group’s wish is coming true. Calefax has begun a tour in Turkey and is headed out to China, India, Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Alban Wesly says he’s love to perform in the ancient Persian capital of Isfahan. Duke Ellington named one of the pieces in the suite for that city.

ALBAN WESLY: It would be great to play in Isfahan you know….they treat you with poetry all the time.

Despite his love for Ellington and jazz, Alban Wesly says if he had a chance to be reborn in a different century.

ALBAN WESLY: It would be the 15th…..and I would love to check whether that is true.

For the world, this is Adeline Sire

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