Meraki Duo in Liverpool and London[Editor’s note] One of the great joys of writing and editing for International Flute Journal is hearing and meeting new artists, either emerging flute players or one of the unknown number — probably thousands — who are merely new to me. Every one of them has a story to tell and insights into music in general, and the flute in particular, that are of value to our readers.
A case in point is the Meraki Duo, consisting of flutist (as she is British I should say flautist) Meera Maharaj and guitarist James Girling. Their recital was brought to my attention through my subscription to the Lunchtime Concert Series at the University of Liverpool, and noting that a flautist was involved, I fought through Liverpool traffic and parking issues to attend. I arrived just in time to be delighted by the clarity and almost lighthearted nature of Arthur Levering’s arrangements of Bartók’s 6 Romanian Folk Dances. More to the point, the Duo captured me immediately with their effortless virtuosity and poised presentation. I was equally captivated by their presentation of Olivier Messiaen’s 5 Leçons de Solfège, (arranged Girling) Four Macedonian Folk Pieces by Mirislav Tadić and Quarteto Novo‘s Misturada, arranged by the duo. In light of our interest in expanding the repertoire at Flute Journal, this was something of a revelation, both the program and the aplomb with which it was presented; intelligence and passion is a powerful combination! In addition, the concert was sponsored by the organisation started by Yehudi Menuhin, Live Music Now.
After a conversation with Meera and looking over Meraki’s repertoire list, I learned that they are as committed to the goal of expanding horizons for flute artists as we are at Flute Journal. For some background, an interview with Meera and James will follow soon. But first, finding that the Duo was due to appear at King’s Place in London, I contacted Maddy Shaw and she was happy to attend the concert. Her review follows:
It is midday on a Saturday at King’s Place – that white stone and glass Temple to Art which sits alongside the Regent’s Canal in London, rising above the painted houseboats and swans that remember when this area was warehouses and wasteland. The October rain is cold and penetrating, and I’m glad to shake off my umbrella and step into the warm sanctuary. There is a busy hum from the shared space. A few earnest discussions behind beards and thick rimmed spectacles; mums clutching lattes and buggies. Interesting salads are piled high in the café, untouched behind the glass, anticipating the imminent hungry queue. King’s Place is host to the London Guitar Festival, and I’m here to listen to the Meraki Duo – the flute and guitar of Meera Maharaj and James Girling who are performing as part of the International Guitar Foundation’s Young Artists’ Platform at the festival.
The curve of the vast, empty escalator falls away through the marble atrium down to the performance space, giving each passenger a moment of vertigo, the illusion of flying. Gliding down past the balcony gallery level, there are men in uniform black T-shirts setting up the next art exhibition. Paintings lean up against the wall around the room ready to be put on display – big and small, squares and rectangles, irregularly strewn around the floor like some giant high-brow game of Tetris. An installation with flock wallpaper rests by a watercolour of the Beatles and an abstract swirling painting in oils. The men discuss, place, measure and hang each work with such precision and eye for detail that it seems an art form in itself. I admire the time and effort which goes in to give the appearance of effortlessness.
As the escalator arrives at the performance level, the unmistakable sound of the flute can be heard distantly from the dressing room. Meera Maharaj is a young flute player with an impressive CV and clearly no stranger to putting in the effort. She graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music Batchelor degree with Distinction, from the Royal Academy Masters with Distinction. She has a host of other prizes and awards in her pocket, as well as a commitment to using her music as a force for good – raising money for foodbanks and working with the brilliant organisation Live Music Now. James Girling is a young guitarist of similar distinction. The duo met at the RNCM and have played together since with a versatile mix of classical, jazz and folk repertoire. They are steadily making a name for themselves.
The room for the show starts to fill up. The audience, as all audiences do, resolutely occupies the sides of the St Pancras Room to start with, gradually taking up the seats towards the middle and the front – as if social reserve exerts a centrifugal force.
Second on the lunchtime billing, Maharaj and Girling take the stage. Maharaj stands just off centre – a slight figure in a dark red full-length dress, carefully synchronised with Girling’s black suit, white shirt and thoughtfully matched tie. Without discussion, the couple open with Manuel de Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole. Meharaj plays with poise and commitment. She has an extraordinary strength and depth of tone, and a broad emotional range – from playful, through fiery, to haunting use of Spanish vocabulary. The performance is physical and animated as Maharaj leans and sways in time to her music. At times the flute describes sweeping arcs in the air as she conveys the intensity of feeling, to great effect. I am reminded of how, in some languages, the words for music and dance are the same because to have music without movement is unthinkable.
In this short performance, the couple showcase the range of their repertoire – including classical, folk and Brazilian pieces. The stand out tune comes from the two Macedonian Folk Pieces by the Serbian guitarist and composer Miroslav Tadić – featuring a warm blend of alto flute and guitar. In the lively 5/8 dance tune Pajdushka, Maharaj moves between a silky legato to deftly articulated dance steps – in perfect sync with Girling’s expert accompaniment and percussive use of the guitar body. The timing and energy is excellent, the tempo surging forward. Balkan dancers whirl through our collective imagination.
After the show, I reflect that the duo did not appear to put a foot wrong – owning the stage with an engaging mix of youthful enthusiasm and seasoned confidence. The Greek word Meraki means to do something with commitment, with passion, with total dedication – to put something of yourself into it. Judging by this show, Meraki Duo do just that, playing with perfect alignment and assurance, yet seemingly effortlessly. We look forward to following their rise.[Meraki Duo forthcoming dates]
Review by Maddy Shaw (Oct 2019)
Maddy Shaw is a flautist working in London with a particular interest in jazz flute and improvisation. Maddy worked as a barrister for many years before changing career to concentrate on developing as a musician. She recently graduated from Guildhall School of Music, and is the founder, director and band leader of the Girl Plays Jazz Project introducing girls and young women to jazz improvisation.
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