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'Fate just kind of happened': Trio Fadolín on their chance meeting and championing of a six-string violin

Trio Fadolín

New York City-based Trio Fadolín joined us this week for a few IPR firsts: they're the first to take part in our recording residency program, the first to share an IPR-sponsored performance in Left Foot Charley's intimate, upstairs Barrel Room, and certainly the first to play a fadolín in Studio A.

The fadolín is a new instrument, a violin with an expanded, six-string range that Trio Fadolín musician Ljova commissioned and named after its extra strings.

Ljova and fellow Juilliard graduates Sabina Torosjan and Valeriya Sholokhova formed Trio Fadolín during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And though they came together after a chance connection on Facebook, they discovered one especially binding commonality: they'd each fled the Soviet Union for New York with their families as kids.

Now, Trio Fadolín is performing in top New York City venues - from Symphony Space to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and later this month, the Kennedy Center.

They joined IPR's Nancy Deneen to talk more about their work and this one-of-a-kind instrument.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Nancy Deneen: Ljova, I understand you are an alumnus of Interlochen Arts Camp.

Ljova: I am indeed. I came here in the summer of 1990 - it was my first summer in the States. I was born in Moscow, Russia, and came here when I was 11. And shortly after we arrived, my parents found someone who told them about Interlochen Arts Camp and offered me a scholarship to come here for the whole summer.

It was an eye opening experience. It was my first time playing an orchestra, living with other children and speaking English. So it was really a wonderful, precious experience to have at such a young age.

ND: The fadolín is an instrument showcased within your ensemble Trio Fadolín. Explain to us - what is a fadolín?

L: Well, in nuts and bolts terms, it's a violin with extra strings. In more visionary terms, it's really an expansion of the string family to have an instrument that encompasses the range of the violin, the viola and almost everything but the last five pitches of the cello in an airplane-friendly package. It really expands the possibilities of what a handheld stringed instrument can do in a concert setting. And so it expands possibilities for composers, performance and recording, too. It doesn't sound like a violin, it doesn't sound like a viola, it doesn't sound like a cello. It really sounds like its own voice and its own sonority.

I bought my first six-string fiddle in 2007, and I spent the next decade using it in a variety of band contexts and in recordings as an extra layer. And then, when the pandemic hit, I really realized that I had no repertoire to show for this instrument. Every composer I spoke to said, "Well, that's great that you have a new fiddle, but is there any repertoire for it?" And I would say, "Well, no, but you can play anything on it." And the composers just didn't seem that impressed. So I thought, "Well, if the composers don't feel as excited about the instrument as I am, maybe I could at least write some starter repertoire."

And so the pandemic was the perfect time. I mean, one of the silver linings of this horrible thing that we all lived through was that I had all this time to practice and to write. And so I wrote and recorded about an hour and a half of material for the fadolín as a solo instrument.

ND: How did you happen upon the fadolín?

L: It's a funny story, there were a few things that happened. In 2005 or 2006, I went to hear a concert at Carnegie Hall by a band named Zach Brock & The Coffee Achievers. He was a jazz violinist and had a five-string. And then a few months later, my future wife and I were in Budapest and heard a violinist with a Greek band that was also using a five-string. And this expanded range really excited me. It turned out there was a maker in Ithaca, New York who had made five-strings or six-strings and was also interested in creating acoustic instruments with an extended range. So I commissioned an instrument from him, but didn't know if it was going to be five-string or a six-string. He made a six-string, and that changed everything for me.

ND: Did he coin the term fadolín or did you?

I coined the term. He called it a mezzo six-string or a six-string violin, which to me seemed a little more clinical. And at that point I had a baby naming contest on my website asking what we should we call this instrument. Some people called it a Lev Viola, some people called it a viola de elefante. There were some other really promising submissions. And then I kind of won my own contest because I realized it was a violin with a fa and a do. And fadolín just kind of flowed.

ND: What would you say the future looks like for the fadolín?

L: The future is always hard to predict. I've done some part of its development as a violinist and composer in the sense that I've written and recorded. Now I'm working on its next chapter, which is with the trio. We're trying to create chamber music repertoire which uses fadolín as an essential part of the sonority of the ensemble. And I'm so lucky to have these incredible musicians with me - we're taking this journey together. All anybody can hope for is that a new instrument becomes part of the normal part of the canon.

ND: How did your group come to be?

Sabina Torosjan: We played here and there occasionally, and it was always a lot of fun. Valeriya and I have been playing together for many years, but we came across Ljova's piece eight years ago.

Valeriya and I performed one of the pieces that we play now with Ljova together in a concert. We loved the piece so much and we posted a recording on Facebook and Ljova replied, saying, "Oh, I really like how you performed it." And that was really thrilling. And it's so cool how fate just kind of happened. Now we're playing it together and touring together.

ND: You mentioned your sources for repertoire are your own arrangements and compositions, Ljova. Do you have anything coming down the pike with other composers jumping on board?

L: We're in discussions with composers and in fact, we're not just recording my pieces this week, we're also recording pieces by Lembit Beecher, a wonderful Estonian-American composer.

Trio Fadolín - Ljova: Plume

ND: You're here recording new music for future release, but we also want to give listeners a taste of Trio Fadolín. Tell us about the piece we're going to hear.

L: You're going to hear a piece called "Plume," which is something that I wrote for a BBC documentary called "The Team." It's since been used the numerous dance productions and even a commercial. And it's the tune that brought us all together.

I was composing it for a documentary when my wife was away at Oxford for a summer, and it's a beautiful tune that shows off the fadolín and how wonderfully Sabina plays and how beautifully Valeriya grooves. I think you'll like it.

Trio Fadolín will perform tomorrow, Saturday, March 11 at Mundos 305 (305 W Front St) in Traverse City from 9:30 - 11:30 a.m.

Nancy Deneen is the host of Music at Midday and Music by Request.