Program: Derek Gripper & Mike Block


October 03, 2022  
Crystal Ballroom at Somerville Theatre

Mike Block and Derek Gripper met for the first time one morning in 2018 in a studio in Boston. Block had invited Gripper to play a track on his album, but when Gripper realized they had a whole day booked in the studio, he suggested that they record an entire album. So they did. Block had never heard any of the pieces Gripper played for him, and each take on the album is a first take. Expect the same spontaneity and immediacy of music making from their live performance together: cello and guitar like never before. 

Derek Gripper 
It took Derek Gripper untold hours of painstaking work to transcribe note for note the complex compositions of Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté and find a way of playing them on six-string guitar. The results appeared on his ninth album, One Night on Earth. The album created an unprecedented meeting point between the written tradition of Western classical music and the oral tradition of the West African griots. 

Critical acclaim was quick to follow. Classical guitar legend John Williams said he thought it was “absolutely impossible until I heard Derek Gripper do it.” Toumani Diabaté himself asked for confirmation that it was indeed just one person playing one guitar. Both invited Gripper to collaborate with them: Gripper performed with Williams in Shakespeare’s Globe and Kings Place in London and with Diabaté and his Symmetric Orchestra at the Festival Acoustik Bamako in Mali. He also played with Trio Da Kali at Carnegie Hall and won a Songlines award for the best Africa & Middle East album. Gripper tours regularly in the USA, Canada, Britain, Europe, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Australia, Malaysia, India, and Mali. 

Aside from his transcriptions, Gripper has created original music from his diverse influences: the music of Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe and the works of Arvo Pärt and Egberto Gismonti. He has also spent many years performing and recording his own translations of Bach’s violin and cello music, infusing his interpretations with his lessons from the oral traditions of Africa. 

His works for string quartet, larger ensembles, and installations have been presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale, at Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival in the UK, and in films such as Five Fingers for Marseilles.

Mike Block 
Mike Block is a pioneering cello player, singer, composer, and educator passionate about cross-cultural collaboration through music. Acclaimed by the New York Times for his "vital rich-hued solo playing” and by Salt Lake City’s Deseret News as “a true artist . . . a sight to behold,” Block “is one of the bravest, most intriguing musicians on the American fusion scene” (Gramophone). Block's performances offer a rich mixture of classical repertoire, folk music, original compositions, and songs. Since 2005, he has been a member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, with which he has been featured as both cello and vocal soloist, contributed arrangements and compositions, and earned a Grammy in 2017 for the ensemble’s album Sing Me Home. 

Block is among the first wave of cellists to adopt a strap to stand and move while performing. Using his patented design, the Block strap, he was the first standing cellist to perform at Carnegie Hall, in a performance that the New York Times characterized as "breathless . . . half dance, half dare." In 2020, Block founded Play for the Vote, which organizes musical performances at polling locations across the country on election day, with the goal of increasing voter turnout by providing a more positive voting experience. As an educator, he has directed two summer programs: the Mike Block String Camp and Silkroad’s Global Musician Workshop. Block teaches online through his multi-style cello lessons at and is on faculty at New England Conservatory. 

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