Musical “Renegade” & Concert Master Gilles Apap

Gilles Apap’s website still has a link labeled “Cures,” which discusses how to “get rid of Mind Fungal Disease contracted in the music conservatory.”

It’s a strange calling card for a violinist who now partly makes a living with short teaching stints at music schools (as well as myriad concerts) around the world, including this week at the Music Academy of the West, where Apap – the former concertmaster of the Santa Barbara Symphony who now lives in Arroyo Grande – will lead the Academy Chamber Orchestra in a performance Saturday night.

This select, smaller version of the Academy’s full Festival Orchestra (most of the others are playing in the Opera orchestra) will tackle a wildly divergent program that sandwiches two rich, upbeat, melodic works by Mozart – Divertimento for Strings in D Major, K. 136, and the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Jamor, K. 218 – around the decidedly difficult and somber but mercifully short Concerto Funebre for Solo Violin and String Orchestra by Karl Hartmann, which is receiving its MAW debut. (About the only thing the two composers have in common is their middle name, Amadeus).

Of course, anything played by Apap – the renegade, iconoclastic musician who prefers to call his instrument the fiddle and is just as comfortable playing gypsy swing or old-time bluegrass as he is with Bartok – is always well worth hearing.

I chatted with Apap by the grotto behind MAW’s main building last Monday, just a day after he returned from a summer of touring in Sweden, Portugal, and Mexico.

Q. How did you decide on this program?

A. I thought the Hartmann would be an interesting piece of music for people to hear, something of a different era and genre. It was recommended by a German friend who really wanted to do it with me, so I just learned it too. On the Mozart, well, I get my shtick on. I find it fascinating to take a theme and change it. Mozart is perfect for that, getting everything ready for the game. Take a tiny phrase and change the bowings and the styles. It’s a puzzle, trying to figure it out, so much fun. It’s like a long job of editing. And it leaves some improvisation room as well. [The students] don’t play old-time music or Irish music every day, so I’m sure it captivates them too.

How do you square your feelings about music schools with being here?

Man they pay me to play music, you know. But really, they’re all such good players, here. I’m not opposed to what anyone is doing. I just try to see and listen. It’s changing, getting a little freer. But look, a conservatory, the name means what it means. In French, it means you take the sound and just (forms his hands into a box) sterilize it. But I’m not judging anymore. They have their way of doing things; I have mine, and I just enjoy listening to beautiful music.

But how do you get what you do across to the students?

I don’t hurt them (he laughs). The music that I do is natural to play. It makes it accessible to them. We talk about bowings. What you do with the bow arm is where the magic is. So I just show them a different approach…. If I had had somebody like me showing me these things when I was younger I would have said, “Thank you, man.” Because I had to do that on my own. They look at me with curiosity and smiling, so I think they like it. The only thing that means a lot is what you do with yourself and how you learn to teach yourself. So that’s what I do on the road – teach people how to be more conscious of teaching themselves. So then they don’t need to stay here two months, or even a month. Maybe a week, get some information and move on.

Will you be playing anywhere else while you’re home?

No. I need a break. I have to change the oil in my car – it’s really muddy. Them I’m going to just chill and go surfing. Get out in that water twice a day if I can.