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Joseph Tawadros

Joseph Tawadros and his oud

Winning three consecutive ARIA Awards – for best new world music album – is not something many people achieve. But Australian musician Joseph Tawadros, a virtuoso on the oud, a pear-shaped Arabic string instrument, says it’s largely because he writes so many songs.

And besides, he knows he still has a way to go to catch the Wiggles with their seven straight.

“It’s hard for pop people to pull out an album a year,” Tawadros told the Mercury. “I’m pulling an album a year, so I can get up for it again. I’m writing so much. Every year I have about three albums’ worth of repertoire.”

Aided by technology and a fertile mind, he is prolific. “When I’m touring, sometimes you’re just stuck in the room with your instrument – I’m just writing,” Tawadros said. “I’m always coming up with themes, and with the invention of the iPhone, I can record these themes. “Now my phone is full of little sketches. I probably record about three sketches a day, especially with this Vivaldi music.” By that, the 31-year-old Sydneysider means the material for his next tour, with Richard Tognetti‘s Australian Chamber Orchestra, playing the Four Seasons.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Vivaldi, and the Baroque period interested me in Western classical music, because it was the closest thing to Arabic music I found,” Tawadros said. “I always identified Vivaldi and Bach – especially in the minor keys, and especially in the harmonic minor keys – as Arabic; I always thought they were Arabic melodies. That’s why they’re so much more accessible to an Eastern ear. There’s no big leaps; the intervals are shorter. The melodies are linear.

“My background was Arabic traditional music and folk music, but Bach and Vivaldi were real eye-openers to the classical music world. . . . Vivaldi is my absolute favorite in the classical world.”

Born in Egypt, and moving to Australia at the age of three, Tawadros, 31, grew up in Redfern and still lives within a few kilometers of Abercrombie Street. He has learned how to play several instruments, aided by regular trips to Egypt and having a brother, James, who is an expert on the Arabic tambourine called the riq and who is also joining the orchestra on this tour.

With his immaculate dress sense, a cheeky sense of humor and an upturned moustache like a cross between Salvador Dalí‘s and Hercule Poirot‘s, Joseph is likely to stand out on a classical music stage.

Apart from Vivaldi, the rest of this program is mostly Tawadros’ original music, with the orchestra’s contribution to these pieces arranged in collaboration with Tognetti.

Tawadros said he plays a complementary role – until it’s time for his own music. “I think [the orchestra’s] interpretation of the Four Seasons is lively enough and amazing,” he said. “So what you need is just to color that, to add a little bit of spice.

“The oud is just to add to the greater picture. And I think that’s the great thing about the Four Seasons. It’s such a group thing, and I’m just assisting in some spice.”

Ben Langford – Illawarra Mercury