Hamilton de Holanda - listen to the bandolim

Events in Brazil have been the focus of much attention this past week but Glasgow is about to get a taste of Brazilian magic delivered to its door with the arrival of Hamilton de holanda a week on Sunday.

De Holanda is a master of the bandolim – a ten-string cousin of the mandolin – and on the video and recording evidence of his performances with fellow virtuoso musicians from across the world, including banjo wizard Bela Flack, pianists Chick Corea and Omar Sosa, and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, his Scottish debut at the Old Fruitmarket should be quite an occasion.

Music seems to have been as essential a part of life for the Rio-born, Brasilia-raised de holanda as oxygen. His grandfather was a trumpeter, an uncle played saxophone and when his grandfather gave the five-year-old Hamilton a mandolin for Christmas, it wasn’t long before a family trio, a choro group called Dois de Ouro, was formed, with Hamilton’s father and older brother on seven-string guitars.

“I learned to play music even before I could write,” says de holanda. “It was our way to have a fluid communication. In my house, when I was young, every day we had rehearsals with the trio. I always loved this moment, to play, to practise, to study. The mandolin became like a friend. I used to play for hours every day. When I was a child, the size was perfect for me and the sound has a mystery that intrigued me. It can be both classical and popular, sweet and or acid in tone. Today, I have my family, my children, the time is a little bit different, but I still practise every day.”

With no mandolin teacher available, between the ages of six and eleven de holanda took violin lessons. The two instruments share the same tuning, although the mandolin is strung in pairs, so studying the left-hand’s positioning allowed him to transfer what he learned onto the mandolin and apply it in the family group.

By this time the group was a duo with his brother and the two young boys – Hamilton was six when he played his first professional gig – had quite a schedule, playing concerts, tours and TV shows. When he wasn’t playing professionally he would jam with friends for fun.

To begin with his musical heroes were those who played in the style he and his brother followed. Composers Pixinguinha and Jacob do Bandolim, who specialized in writing choro music for de holanda’s chosen instrument, and mandolin players Armandinho and Joel Nascimento were early sources of ideas and repertoire. Later, however, his listening broadened out to include singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento, experimental guitarist-pianist Egberto Gismonti, classical music by Villa-Lobos, Bach and Debussy, jazz masters Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny, the new tango of Astor Piazzolla, and the flamenco of guitarist Paco de Lucia.

Today, of course, many of the international musicians whose music he enjoys are as likely to be playing onstage or in the studio with him as playing through his headphones. His duo album with Italian pianist Stefano Bollani for the ECM label, O que sera, has won praise all around the world and his work with French accordionist Richard Galliano, especially on the album Samba do Avião, is the kind of music that brings involuntary gasps as the two musicians inspire each other to greater creative heights.

“The first time Stefano and I played together was magical,” he says. “But I find that I always have something to learn when I get together with musicians from other cultures. It’s always an amazing experience. I’m a Brazilian musician, my music is from my country, but the world is our home. To play with different musicians is one of the best ways to have fun, to create peace, to celebrate life.”

Of all his summit meetings, though, de holanda reserves special praise for the Brazilian national treasure and master of everything from flute to lagoons (he and his band have literally been known to play water music) to musically squeezed piglets, Hermeto Pascoal, whom he now counts as a friend and collaborator.

“One of the most incredible experiences in my life was to see Hermeto the first time,” he says. “Music seemed to come out by the hair, the beard [Pascoal can be seen playing his beard on YouTube]. Everything was music. And to share a concert with him is always special, like a master class.”

There’ll be no playing of beards – or piglets – when de holanda appears at the Old Fruitmarket, although his solo concert is likely to be a master class. He has been working on solo performance since 2000. He actually developed the ten-string bandolim with a view to playing solo and just as his colleague, the American mandolin genius Chris Thile has perfected Bach partitas for solo mandolin, de holanda has just made his caprichos project, inspired by Paganini caprices, available in audio and score versions for free on his website:  

“When I began with the ten-string instrument - the normal mandolin has eight strings - my target was to play the melody, the harmony and the rhythm together,” he says. “So it’s like a solo guitar or piano and every year I do some solo concerts around the world. I have a big repertoire and every concert I choose a different repertoire, spontaneously. It will be a joy to do a concert for the first time in Glasgow.”


From The Herald, June 20, 2014.

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