Radim Zenkl Charmed his Audience with Musical Humor and an Incredible Virtuosity
April 23, 2019
Nothing unusual to hear at a concert the beautiful George Gershwin's song Summertime from his 1935 opera "Porgy and Bess". After all, it was recorded about 17,500 times! Ella Fitzgerald or Billy Holiday interpreted the song as a mellow soothing swaying jazz extravaganza, Janice Joplin as a raw blues, Miles Davis as cool jazz and among many others Leonyde Price or Harolyn Blackwell as an original soprano operatic aria. Let us visit March Point Loma concert with our special guest, Radim Zenkl, with his version! He, the (mainly) "string guy", picks
up a flute, cues to his guitar accompanist, an accomplished San Diego musician Josef Šeda, and here we are, swaying in our seats with the heartfelt beautiful melody of the lullaby soaring above our heads...but wait, there is a small pause and the flautist decides to continue not with his flute on his left side as the tradition dictates, but he skillfully switches in the middle of the song to the right side and you would not hear the difference! Before the audience managed to wonder how he can do that, he turns his flute upside down and blows into the open end of the flute (!!) without losing one single perfectly intonated note! Wow and wow, audience chuckles, everyone shifts in the seats to get a better look and all are astonished!
And that is how the concert of Radim Zenkl went on: A constant musical suprise and a paramout level of virtuosity.
Radim started the show on his main instrument, a mandolin, that he chose when 12 years old for his love of blue grass and country music. Being from the Czech Republic, moving to the USA later in his life, blue grass music was omnipresent in his native country.
And here is a short history why Czechs love LOVE bluegrass: People living in Czechoslovakia were alwas fascinated by America on many levels: the Native Indians stories by Karl May about Winnetou and his brothers were staple for all Czech children and started the fascination with the American West. Scouting was another influence, established in Czechoslovakia in 1911, only several years after the birth of the first world Scout Association in 1908. Scouts introduced the love of the self-reliance in outdoors that went along with beautiful narrative songs sung by the campfire. Scouting lead to "tramping" , another passion of Czechs (the signage of the hike trails were proclaimained the most effecient and the most beautiful in the world!). Tramping also goes with beautiful songs about tramps' adventures rhytmically accompannied with guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Finally, the biggest impact that change the Czech scene: Peter Seeger came to Czechoslovakia in 1964 and introduced a brand new instrument that the Czechs never saw before: a banjo. The Czechs were smitten by the 5 string banjo and Marko Cermak readily built it from a photograph he had taken of it. And today, the Czechs have more blue grass bands per capita than anywhere in the world. Radim, one of many fascinated with bluegrass, decided to learn to play mandolin, a staple for that kind of music.
At the Point Loma March 2019 concert he presents his own compositions as well as virtuosic historical pieces. Then he presents music on mandola, a bigger cousin of the mandolin, and then the ukulele. Except! Radim decides to play a piece on the ukulele that has only two strings! You would never know that the instrument is "disabled" by missing two strings. The melody sounds rich in harmony that takes us to exotic places.
Radim virtuosic entertaining show goes on with another surprise: He explains to the audience that he wanted to broaden his skills and his repertoire of instruments that can produce the best legatos of all. And he turned to flutes and starts with quite a rare & unique one! An 8 feet Slovak shepherd's flute called fujara that has been echoing through the Slovakian Tatra Mountains since the Medieval times. It has three holes and its music is beautifully eery, transporting you in blooming meadows surrounded by tall craggy peaks. The fujara is followed by the Irish flute (who can resist Irish tunes!!) and finally we hear a flute that is only a hollow piece of metal with no holes...It is operated only by your lips just like natural trupet used to be. The tunes Radim produces go from dynamic happy melodies to haunting, sweet melodically rich songs.
I have always admired musicians who pursue a mission to broaden musical horizons of the audience by finding ways to make us wonder and to stir our souls; Radim is one of them. And not only that: Radim Zenkl is also one of the kindest and charismatic musicians there is as he always supports all of his musical, professional as well as amateur, friends by offering them space at his show. San Diego was not an exception as his evening was opened and ended by a local band, Poe Street
Band, consisting of Czechs and Americans who presented wonderful Czech-American style of dynamic excellent bluegrass. (Christiaan Nazarian vocal, guitar, Pavel Chvistek, vocals, banjo, Vladislav Hanc, guitar.) Radim also invited on the stage the host of the show (that would be me!) We are long-time friends and Radim accompanied my Moravian folk songs. What an honor for me!
And so, this world renown musician that keeps his head around him in a modest manner, prepared for us a unique evening full of great music, musical humor and superb skills on all of the instrument. We all appreciate Radim Zenkl's unique gift, unremitting diligence, his musical humor and gladly accept that piece of his huge soul that he shared with us.