Put eyebrows on it. This was Frank Zappa’s way of telling you to put that something extra into your music that makes the difference between good playing and “absolutely astonishing expert playing”.
Peter Rundel knows exactly what this means. In 1993 he debuted The Yellow Shark with Frank Zappa in legendary concerts, after a year of endless, exacting rehearsals with the twenty-nine pairs of eyebrows in the Ensemble Modern of Frankfurt. He now returns to direct it for the first time in twenty-five years with the La Scala Academy Giorgio Bernasconi Ensemble—a new generation of young instrumentalists—who take their new production on tour in Italy in October 2018 with concerts in Milan (Piccolo Teatro), Rome (Romaeuropa Festival), and Reggio Emilia (Festival Aperto).
Zappa’s final work, culmination and compendium of his career, The Yellow Shark includes some twenty pieces, each one a tale in its own right. It includes works written specifically for the project (1993), previously unpublished pieces (the tune in Puond for Brown dates back to the 1950s), others originally composed for other purposes (such as Outrage at Valdez, for a Cousteau documentary, 1989), and album songs that are part of the history of rock (Uncle Meat, 1969; Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974; Jazz from Hell, 1986).
Whether written ex novo, created on the spot, or newly arranged and instrumentalized for ensemble execution, the various pieces came together into a new, highly original, coherent work. It is an unquestionable masterpiece of late-twentieth-century music, created by an artist so far off the beaten track as to define a new dimension. He was masterfully at home in two very separate worlds—rock and contemporary classical music—which he inhabited with equal mastery and his signature critical-satirical exactitude.
Here is the story:
1991: The Ensemble Modern of Frankfurt commissions Zappa to compose a new musical project.
The Ensemble flies to Los Angeles to work on some of the pieces with the composer in Joe’s Garage Studios. During a meeting between Zappa and the manager and director of the Ensemble at the time (Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser and Peter Rundel, respectively), Mölich-Zebhauser notes the fish prominently displayed at Zappa’s headquarters. It is a fiberglass work donated to Zappa by the artist and fan Mark Beam. It’s actually not a shark, but it looks like a shark, and it’s yellow.
1992: The Yellow Shark becomes the title and symbol of the new project: a series of concerts performed in September in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Vienna with Frank Zappa and Peter Rundel taking turns on the podium.
1993: The Yellow Shark is released in November. It includes eighteen pieces from the above concerts, all recorded live but with extensive post-production. It will be Zappa’s last album: he dies in December.
2018: Peter Rundel is back to conduct music from The Yellow Shark for the first time since it was recorded and twenty-five years after the death of its composer. Having gained worldwide eminence as a conductor, Rundel is the keeper of a unique historical memory of the spirit and absolutely atypical performance concept of Shark. For example, he has first-hand experience with the sound system that Zappa specified in meticulous detail for each of the twenty-nine instruments; much more than mere amplification, it is a compositional element that is every bit as essential as the music.
The Giorgio Bernasconi Ensemble, coprotagonist in this new production, is an original educational vehicle developed by the La Scala Academy. Created in 2008, the two-year program gives students in the Orchestra Musicians Course the opportunity to deepen their appreciation of the twentieth-century repertoire by performing masterpieces of modern music while also exploring the most intriguing musical forays of contemporary composers.
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is the best.
(Frank Zappa, Packard Goose, 1979)
Saturday 6, Sunday 7 October 2018 > Piccolo Teatro di Milano – Teatro d’Europa, Milano
Wednesday 10, October 2018 > Romaeuropa Festival, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Roma
Friday, 12 October 2018 > Festival Aperto, Teatro Municipale Valli, Reggio Emilia