Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog: ‘Europatopia’ features guitarist Joel Kabakov

By now, you should know that the Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association will be presenting “A Community of Music” at the Wy’east Middle School Performing Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, Jan. 24, at 2 p.m.

Besides the Gorge Jazz Collective Big Band, Jamba Marimba and Los Temerosos Mariachi, Friday’s show includes Joel Kabokov and Europatopia. Joel is someone I’ve been meaning to talk to for a number of years. I’m pretty sure his name’s been in the paper before, but I seem to remember seeing him during one of those informal summertime lunchtime concerts they used to have in the park right outside the Hood River library, years ago. He was a bit of a mysterious looking musician hunched over a classical guitar.

Well, it turns out, he’s on the faculty of CGCC and is friends with a host of people that will be exploring the world of gyspsy and flamenco flavored music for your (and hopefully mine) listening pleasure this weekend.

Mystery solved.

Interview with Joel Kabakov

How did you get invited to play with the group that Mark Steighner is leading?

We were contacted by Mark, my colleague on the faculty of CGCC. Mark and I essentially comprise the music department at the college and he knows of my interest in world music cultures which I teach.

What pieces will you be playing — are they solo or with the group?

Our full ensemble of female vocalist, clarinet, cello, percussion and myself on guitar, piano and accordion make up “Europatopia.” We will be playing pieces drawn from klezmer, Sephardic Spanish, Russian Gypsy and flamenco traditions — the most familiar of which is “Dark Eyes” for vocal solo and ensemble which has Russian roots. Other titles include “Sammy’s Freilach,” “Adio Kerida”, “Un Boketo” and “Odessa Bulgar.” My colleagues in the group include Rebecca Gooch, soprano, Dennis Williams, clarinet, Solea Kabakov, cellist and Antonia Rojas on castanets and percussion. Europatopia was formed in the Gorge three years ago and has appeared in numerous venues around the Northwest.

Can you tell us a bit of your background — where did you grow up, how did you begin playing music, who inspired you to play classical guitar?

I am a composer and musician raised in Southern California, educated at U.C. Berkeley and Harvard culminating in a PhD thesis which is an orchestral ballet including flamenco guitars. My wife was lead dancer with the Jose Greco Dance Co. which lead me to my interest in the Spanish artistic idiom and eventually to the wider world of roots music. I studied flamenco and classical guitar with a number of master players including Emilio Prado.

How many students do you have and what does your music class involve?

I have taught guitar classes at CGCC with up to sixteen students and will continue them this spring or in the summer so stay tuned. We study several styles in the class ... including American roots, Spanish and folk styles.

Can you tell me about your guitar — is it a special make/brand?

The guitar I play is a vintage Spanish instrument made by Jose Ramirez in 1962 and has a very distinctive flamenco quality.

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