music

Violin and Piano Thrillers

Bogdan Văcărescu – violin

Julian Jacobson – piano

“Violin and Piano Thrillers” was recorded on 17 & 18 October 2015 at AIR Studios – Lyndhurst Hall, London with the support of The New Europe Society as well as friends and fans through a crowd-funding campaign that lasted 28 days.

I have been hugely inspired by some of the great violinists of the 20th century such as Heifetz and Kreisler and this album focuses on bringing back to life some of the most beautiful master pieces that are rarely if ever played today.

 

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A visit to Amman and Za’atari – Syrian refugees camp in Jordan

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Two nights ago I came back from Jordan. I was there with part of my band – Paprika to perform a couple of concerts in celebration of Europe Day on 9th of May, 2015. The reason there was only half the band in Amman is because the Home Office in UK is holding the passports of 2 of our band members. One of them has been waiting for his visa for well over 2 years. The irony is that whilst criminals need to be cleaned up off UK’s streets, the Home Office is wasting public money on courts and lawyers preventing us from doing our job as cultural ambassadors of Europe and representing UK as well as our countries. But enough of the negative sides now. I just had to get it off my chest as it IS ridiculous and absurd. So I made this small tour with Rastko Rasic on drums, Vlad Strkalj on guitar and Peter Bakaja on bass.

The first concert was in Amman. I must say that all involved in organizing this mini tour were amazing. Our Jordanian friends were more than welcoming and accommodating all of our needs. Plus in general, Jordanians were smiling at us as we walked down their streets saying “welcome to Jordan”. OrangeRed and the British Council in Jordan were absolutely amazing. The Jordan Times was one of the papers that covered the event. The Hashemite Plaza, which is where the concert took place,  is a very large square built at the bottom of a Roman Amphitheater.

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Our collaboration with the local musicians was a lot of fun and all in all we had a great time on stage. It was great to see there lots of Embassies amongst which there was the Romanian Embassy in Jordan, The Jordanian Romanian Forum for Culture (JRFC) and the British Embassy. Here is a little snippet of the concert taken by an audience member.

Bogdan Vacarescu #Ziua_europei_2015

Posted by The Jordanian Romanian Forum for Culture JRFC on Monday, 11 May 2015

More pictures of this event can be found here:

Europe Day Celebrations (8-9 th May 2015)احتفل الاتحاد الأوروبي في الأردن خلال عطلة نهاية الأسبوع به بسلسلة من الأنشطة…

Posted by European Union in Jordan on Monday, 11 May 2015

And here.

Now the exceptional part of this trip was going to happen the next day, 10th of May 2015, when we headed out to camp Za’atari. We were told that the camp was built in 9 days in 2012. Now, officially the population inside the camp is around 84.000 people but in reality is closer to 100.000 which makes this camp the 4th largest “city” in Jordan. There are a few main things that I would like to share whilst they are still fresh in my mind:

First of all, the Jordanian officials they were so apologetic about what they could offer to the Syrians refugees as we were there in some sort of an inspection rather than perform a concert for them. They were saying how desert is all they have and that this is this is the best they could do for the refugees, and from what I saw in the few days of driving up and down, it is true – all we could see was desert and rocky mountains with patches of brown grass. Also we were already told in Amman that the natural reserves of water are extremely low and they import most of the water as well as their electricity. Hence, Za’atari did not have electricity for some time and even after they did manage to get it they kept on having electricity cuts. Now, they were showing us their latest solution –  newly acquired small diesel electricity generators that could supply power to a few trailers. In fact, after our little performance there, we took a walk in the camp and saw 3 kids aged perhaps between 9 and 12 years old taking apart one of these generators and trying to fix it.

In that same trip around the camp we arrived at this trailer in which lived one of the Syrians that was in charge of the neighborhood. Yes, the camp is organized into neighborhoods and it actually works like a small city. People get some per diems and they have  a small infra structure. But I’ll get back to that, now about this man and his trailer.  At the time we got there, he had a guest in his “house” an older man who once was a judge back in Syria, now sitting on something improvised to make it look like a divan. And he still was the judge in the camp – at least that’s what the camp’s official showing us around said. Now here comes another interesting part. As we were in this man’s doorway (about 12 of us  – some of the Paprika and officials from different Embassies that came to see the concert) we were guests, therefore we had to have coffee! Now remember, water is a luxury in a camp like that, especially when the camp is in the middle of the desert! So we refused but no matter that he was in that situation, he had to go by his people’s hospitality rules and we were told that he would take offense if we refused him. He only had one cup. And he poured in it enough coffee for a couple of sips so everyone could get some of that Turkish style coffee. I was thinking that probably between 12 of us we drank his ration of 2 days worth of water. And I really wished I had a bottle of water on me to give to him in return.. We were not aloud to take pictures whilst walking around but I did take some whilst driving in and driving away from the camp and you can watch it below.

Another thing I noticed was that as we walked along the camp, the refugees had a smile (sad smile but still a smile) when they looked at us and were saying “welcome”, “salam” or just waving at us. And so we headed to the main street of the camp – the commercial street which they call ChampsÉlysées – loved to see how irony and humor are used in the camp to overcome the hardships. Over there they have their own tailors, bakers, carpenters, barbers etc. Of course all these take place in the same sort of trailers as seen in the above video. Everything is so basic and simple and yet they really try to keep calm. We were told that sometimes the refugees can snap over the smallest thing as a result of it being the last straw. Which was understandable since they lost houses, families, jobs pretty much everything except for their lives.

Oh yeah, another thing: the Syrian refugees were actually really looking after their trailers. We had a peek inside the trailers and they somehow made them look really cozy: a rug here, a cushion there and all very clean! I don’t know how they did it! They were actually sweeping their places inside and in front. But the dust kept on coming back. As a matter of fact we spotted 2 sand twisters as we were leaving the camp!

Here you can see a little safe place for the kids to play:

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Going back to where the concert took place, another camp official was showing me 3 different trailers that he was so proud and happy about: the first one had 14 new laptops sent by Switzerland for kids to learn computers and whatever they wanted to learn. Another trailer with books and another one dedicated to fine arts. Here, they had an arts teacher that was showing them how to build models of real places, paint and other handy crafts. Here are a few pictures of what they were working on:

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The concert itself was yet another collaboration between members of Paprika and Syrians players and in the end, Jordanians joined as well when we tried to play something together with the Syrian band in the end of the concert. It was actually rather funny that in this trip we discovered that this tune (Aj Ruse Kose – which is already claimed by most Balkan countries) is known and claimed by some Arab countries too! So luckily they knew our song and slowly they started jamming one by one. This concert was organized again by the British Council, IRD and UNHCR who were all present as well as other officials from other Embassies including the Romanian Embassy which kindly uploaded this clip on their Facebook:

#Ziua_Europei_2015Scenă din concertul susținut, la tabăra de refugiați Zaatari, de Bogdan Văcărescu și formația…

Posted by Ambasada României în Regatul Hașemit al Iordaniei on Monday, 11 May 2015

I’ll have to come back and correct some of the English in this post as well as add stuff as I remember it. This thing was written in a hurry after a long rehearsal and still, it took me a little over 3 hours. I have quite a few more pictures to upload from the trip but I will do it in PART TWO of the post which may come in the near distant future. But I will end with this observation: all my life I was watching how people always share when they have next to nothing and when they have plenty… they say it’s not enough to go by. I remember as I grew up under Ceausescu how people always traded or just gave if they had that extra few eggs because they knew that one day they may be the ones needing that little extra bit. Same thing here: Jordanians sharing their desert with Syrians. Syrians sharing their water with us. And us… coming from a places that have plenty of water and grass and food and yet they say it’s not enough for immigrants. Getting a sick feeling anyone?

Anyway here’s me and the British Ambassador in Amman sorting out the world! 🙂

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And a nice pic from the end of the concert in Amman.

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Here are the members of Paprika together with the Syrian and Jordanian musicians after the concert at Za’atari.

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Rebuke this law

I was hoping that my first blog would be a lighter one. However a few days ago I came across this article and this one.  I can’t even begin to describe how absurd is this introduction of extra paperwork and expenses and how angry it got me. I’m sure that this sort of bullying happens in all fields however I’m a musician so I’ll just talk about how it affects me. Usually I stay away from politics but on this occasion I’ll have to bring it in for obvious reasons and for some other reasons you’ll find out in a bit.

So let’s start analyzing some ideas from the above mentioned articles: “Most musicians won’t require a passport, but if you bring an antique bow with the elephant-ivory or tortoiseshell frog overseas… you’ll need to obtain the proper legal documentation to cross international borders …. Unlike your actual passport, which through international agreements is accepted worldwide, travelers with an instrument passport will need to check local laws with each country they plan to visit… Obtaining approval should be easy for applicants, since CITES went into effect July 1, 1975, and most of the bows with tortoiseshell or ivory parts have survived since in the 19th century and are defined as antiques.” So who’s pockets are we going to line now? First of all no luthier today will use any of the prohibited materials. It takes A LOT of years for any luthier to gain a little recognition. None of them will jeopardize his job by sticking any ivory or other illegal materials on the instruments they repair or make. Despite what the rednecks that pass these sort of laws may think, luthiers are not the same as a carpenter or a joiner.

Secondly: making a law retroactive is OUTRAGEOUS. Most professional musicians spend a fortune on their instruments and put a lot of time to find the instrument best suited for them. Sometimes it may not be in a shop. Actually, most of the time the deals don’t take place in a shop. Instruments and bows can be passed down through family, acquired from private persons or collectors. Usually it’s done through a simple receipt and handshake and in the case of an expensive instrument it will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. But trying to trace if and when the ivory in my bow was placed is just insane. For example i know my luthier for many years now. He trusts me and I trust him. There is no need for receipt. If I sell any of  my instruments now, it will be extremely hard to trace back who did what and when.

“..Has not subsequently been transferred from one person to another person for financial gain or profit since February 26, 1976” What does that even mean?! If I sell a bow to buy a better one, that is financial gain. And none of the bow’s qualities stand in the piece of ivory. I don’t know ANY musician that would buy any instrument just because it has a pretty tip. This is bureaucracy gone mad.  I put up enough with airlines’ crap every time I travel. Now I have to be double stressed? They are saying that the ones with no ivory won’t need passports. And how may I ask will the uneducated border control officer (that is handling my violin and bows like sacks of potatoes) know the difference between ivory, bones, plastic or any other material? How will he know if my instrument is an antique or not? If i don’t bring a passport he will take my word for it?

And $75 per passport! If you have ivory in 2 bows and violin you need 3 passports! That’s 3 sets of paperwork. Financial gain? This is all about financial gain but for CITES! Whilst I do care about animals I think we are treated worse than them. So now musicians have to pay for poachers’ criminal activity! In a way we will be the poachers’ sponsors. Why thanks USA you just lowered your standards to new lows! Yes if i sell my bow it will be a financial gain. And it’s perfectly legal and within my rights to resell something a bought. And most musicians start with cheaper instruments and as they save money, they sell the inferior bows and upgrade. That’s the business.. Unless you have a benefactor. In which case you have to stress out your benefactor to do all the paperwork for his instrument and risk losing the instrument altogether.

 Are musicians cowards?

I went into a musician Facebook group to raise awareness. I was quite harsh and compared USA’s approach on this as fascist. My post was deleted… by the American admin… I even said to her, how ironic that by deleting my post and my opinions you just infringed the first amendment of USA’s constitution.  They cared more about PC than their own work! Not all of them. Well when they want to paper trail me and want to know my every move, I have all the rights to call them fascists. But especially the admin (who was American) kept on defending this ridiculous fallacious law. Except for couple of guys no one stood up with me. I was even told “has USA gone too far? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t be the first time” That was an argument! Wow! Would it be perhaps just as valid for a rape victim? If it happens again you say “well it’s not the first time so no biggy”.  And yet we are being raped on daily bases and no one takes attitude until it’s too late. I live in London and I must say that Musician’s Union here it’s doing some stuff but not enough. But I start wondering if the blame is to be put on us, the members. We moan here and there but we don’t really stand up. Well I am not going to bend over again. If that means I won’t tour to USA anymore then so be it.

As a side note to those who said I am USA hater when I said it was fascist: I had some amazing trips and met amazing people in the USA. And still have very nice friends in there. Plus lots of my favorite bands, movie directors and comedians are/were from there. In fact one of my favorite comedians and social critics is *****strong language warning in the next link***** George Carlin and I don’t need to add anything to his words. But that doesn’t prevent me to use my brain and recognize infringement on liberties and stealing money out of our pockets legally. Every time I visited the States the border experience was ignoble – I was treated like a criminal, fingerprinted and questioned for a long time and my instrument mishandled. And believe me, I toured all of Europe, Asia and Australia. Even at Israel’s border I was treated better despite the fact that they actually are in the middle of it all. Yet the respect was there. Only Australia comes second worse after USA.  And talking about using the brain: if you think I exaggerate when I’m using terms like fascism, then perhaps you should take a look at the documentary Inside Job or simply talk to people that lived through dictatorships and other horrible systems or simply talk to other intellectuals that have insight. Perhaps is not fascism but it is a form of totalitarianism. I grew up in Romania under a totalitarian regime and i recognize one when i see one even when wrapped in glittery packaging. Same goes for cheap propaganda – I can even smell that! Anyways, in conclusion I don’t hate the USA however some or most of their policies… are very very very worrying. And this one does affect me directly.

Like I said I care about endangered species. And I even give concerts for raising money and I CHOOSE the charity.  And yet I don’t believe for a second that ANY of that money we pay are going to be used in any good way. Perhaps it will pay for the cocktail and dinner parties of the ones that proposed this fatuous program. Whilst the true criminals will go on doing what they do: not having to pay for any passport of any kind.  Another  example of how the ones in power found yet another way to squeeze more money from a poor segment of  the society. And what better way than playing the “endangered species” coin? Makes them look good, right? And the tree huggers will jump right in the band wagon blinded by the “green message” which is actually the government capitalizing on your pockets again. This has nothing to do with “green”. This is robbery. How many more taxes and stress before we all lose it? I simply fail to see the logic behind any of this.

We already have mortgages in place for our instruments, insurances, maintenance and repair works to pay for. If an old bow that had ivory is tempered with it WILL devalue yes, but not because the ivory has to do anything with how the bow works, rather simply because the bow has been tempered with!   If I am wrong, then someone please help me understand how will my stress of tracing the roots of my bows , filling in forms spending more cash and renewing this every 3 years will save elephants? And I restate here that no luthier will use any of the listed materials nowadays.How would that even be any business? Less than half square inch of ivory of 1mm thick at at the tip of bow: is that how we secretly plan to smuggle ivory?

I strongly believe that if musicians won’t stand up soon and say “enough is enough”, soon we’ll be to spend our already laughable fees on more and more made up scams and taxes. Let alone the little time we had left to practice between arranging your gigs, making the posters, negotiating fees, finding more gigs and so on, will be taken by more running around to sort out who knows what paper that our violins are made of some kind of oak or fur tree that disappeared in 1736 and now we must pay the penalty! U think I’m being ridiculous now?  I bet that few months back you didn’t think you’d have to do the genealogical tree of your instruments back to 1976. It’s a debauched law and shows lack of ratiocination. It is all about robbing people of more money. Thank you USA for your indefatigable strives to make to make the poor poorer and the rich richer. The sad truth is that it is happening more and more in Europe. Perhaps we can prevent this from happening in UK or even Europe.

Edit 1: And if the ivory was placed in the bow after 1976? Will we be required to remove it? And that does what exactly for the elephants? What happens to the removed ivory? The elephants would have really died for nothing then. And some of that ivory came from already dead elephants! Shall we pay for private detectives to determine if ivory was obtain pre or post-mortem? Just thinking… the keyword is “thinking” of course.

I kept on referring to bows and violins. Feel free to use your imagination and apply this article to guitars, spoons, pens whatever you want.

Please refrain from swearing or calling each other names. However, sarcasm, irony and intellectual wars are most welcome.