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“Hearing heart and soul is what pulls us in” – Interview with Francesca Ter-Berg and Flora Curzon

This October, Fran&Flora, a London-based experimental string folk duo, come to Manchester to present their new music as part of our Synagogue Nights. In this interview we talk about their many musical inspirations and ask what audiences can expect from their upcoming show.

Multi-award-nominated duo Fran & Flora captivate audiences with world class performances of music from across eastern-Europe and beyond. Comprising of Francesca Ter-Berg (cello) and Flora Curzon (violin), this ever-evolving collaboration is born out of a deep friendship, musical bond and shared interests in traditional music, improvisation and a sense of adventure. Their compositions and arrangements stem from the modes and melodies of Klezmer, Transylvanian, Romanian, Greek and Armenian music, as well as their deep dives into archival recordings and live electronics.

This autumn, having just finished their second album together, they come to Manchester to fill our historic synagogue with their mesmerising sounds.

Hello Fran and Flora! We are so excited for your upcoming concert! Could you tell us a bit more about yourselves and your work?

We are a violin and cello duo, specialising in Jewish music – more specifically, Klezmer and Yiddish song – drawing our inspiration from historical recordings and old manuscripts. Our research has taken us far and wide, on many study trips across Europe and North America, and down many internet rabbit holes, all of which spurs us on to keeping this music alive by learning, playing and sharing it with as many people as possible. Taking these recordings and manuscripts as our starting points, we bring our whole selves to the music and rework the tunes to create pieces that feel authentically ‘ours’ to share.

When did you meet and how did Fran&Flora start?

We met playing in various London based bands, over 10 years ago now, and toured the world with many projects, getting to know each other, sharing music, and cultivating our distinctive string sound. It quickly became clear that we shared a passion for Jewish and Eastern-European music, and decided it made much more sense for us to cut loose from other people’s projects and make our own band, where we would be able to focus on the music that was most important to us.

It also transpired that for both of us continuing to feed our curiosities and skills is a vital and ongoing process. We have embarked on many study and research trips together (Transylvania, Belgium, Germany, US, Canada) which in turn have inspired our live shows, recordings, session work, workshops and individual teaching.

Francesca’s specialities as a cellist are Klezmer, improvisation, composition, collaboration, and sound-design. After studying anthropology at Sussex University, she went on to focus on Jewish music, before completing a Masters in Popular Music at Goldsmiths University and further studies Contemporary Improvisation at New England Conservatory, Boston USA.

Flora leans in a more classical direction: after studying philosophy and religious studies at Kings College London, she went on to do a masters in classical violin at the Royal Academy of Music, and then a Professional Diploma in Baroque music, all the while continuing to learn about Klezmer and traditional music, improvisation and recording.

Our diverse musical backgrounds seem to feed a big mutual pot of inspiration, and the 10 years + of our collaboration has enabled us to create a unique way of working together, which simultaneously challenges and nourishes our creativity. Without getting too sentimental, we both feel incredibly grateful for this musical partnership and hold it close to our hearts.

Your music draws inspiration from klezmer, Romanian and Greek sounds and much more. What is it that you’re looking for in music? How would you describe your style?

This is a big question! I think for both of us, hearing heart and soul, as well as both authenticity and innovation, pull us in. We are both hugely drawn to modal music, deep grooves, interesting textures…and of course stories in the music – what a piece or song is about, who wrote it, where, who has carried it through the ages, where it’s travelled, what influences we can hear in it…

Our style, whilst being deeply influenced by, and revering, old recordings and tradition bearers, is not completely ‘of one tradition’ since we did not grow up in any particular tradition. As relative new-comers to traditional Jewish and Romanian music, we cannot help but bring ourselves with our own musical backgrounds, as well as the urban aesthetics that surround us in London, and our inspiration from the natural world.

We love to experiment with electronics on our instruments, to create more unusual sounds, as well as our voices. Of course, the unusual instrumentation of our duo also contributes to a unique sound that doesn’t necessarily reflect a traditional band set up, and requires us to be inventive, resourceful and original with our arrangements .

‘Experimental folk string duo’ doesn’t really mean anything but it is a way of showing that we cross many worlds with our music. The best way to get a feel for our sound is to listen to our records and hear us live!

Your album “Unfurl” was described as the ‘album of the year’ by BBC Radio 3 Music Planet. Recently you’ve been working on new material, some of which you will perform live during Synagogue Nights. How did you find the process of creating this new album?

Our first album was produced by the immensely talented Sam Beste (The Vernon Spring / Hejira) who was a perfect match for us at that time, encouraging us to take more risks and – with his jazz background – explore production techniques and re-harmonisation and to embrace improvisation during the process of recording the album. Working with him unlocked something for us, and this time we decided to be at the helm of the new record and self-produce, which of course on the one hand is an enormous risk, and on the other, gives us more freedom to be ourselves as creatives, and challenges us to really take control of every decision and own our musical vision.

It was a great joy to create. Both of us have grown in confidence in terms of the actual practical recording side of things, often following our flow at home and adding / sculpting sounds when the inspiration came. Due to being separated during the pandemic and it being difficult to get together we ended up recording in three locations over the course of 2 years. This process is arguably not ideal, however it did give the music lots of fermentation time between sessions, and a chance to feel deeply into each track.

And what can our audiences expect from your show during Synagogue Nights?

This performance will be predominantly our new material, featuring us and our instruments, singing and playing, and delicately adding electronics. We will explain you where we learnt the pieces, and why they mean something to us as we go along, and we may also share some historical recordings with you too…:)

What excites you most about bringing Fran&Flora to Manchester and to our historic Spanish & Portuguese synagogue?

We are very excited about performing at Manchester Jewish Museum in October. It will be our first time performing in Manchester as a duo, and where better to share our research into Jewish music than at the Jewish Museum!

We are also super excited to connect with Manchester’s communities, and play inside such a beautiful and historic building. Our project shares a lot with the work you are doing at the museum – of unearthing stories of Jewish people’s lives and migration patterns over the last few hundred years. We hope you’ll enjoy our show.

What’s next? What should we look out from you in the future?

Our immediate plan is releasing our second album ‘Precious Collection’, which brings Klezmer tunes and Yiddish Song together with original compositions and eclectic arrangements . We are simultaneously working on our third album focussing in on the music of Transylvanian Jews, inspired by recovered manuscripts and recordings, as well as multiple research trips to Transylvania to listen to traditional musicians in remote locations, supported by Help Musicians UK.

Fran&Flora will perform live in our historic synagogue, as part of the Synagogue Nights season, on Sunday, 22 October at 7pm.

BOOK TICKETS FOR FRAN&FLORA

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