Duo Tandem – “Two guitarists ahead of the curve”

It did not take a global pandemic for guitarists Necati Emirzade and Mark Anderson, otherwise known as Duo Tandem, to figure out how to collaborate across the thousands of miles that separate them.

Necati is a London-based Turkish Cypriot while Mark lives in his native Chicago. The two met whilst studying at the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Music and began their collaboration in 2011.

Their latest album featuring the music of Turkish Cypriot composer Kemal Belevi, which was issued on the Naxos label earlier this month, presented a not only a technical challenge, but also a significant logistical challenge.

At the start of project Mark and Necati had already been working remotely for some six years, but up until then this usual involved working on at most two new pieces at a time.

Now they were faced with producing 62 mins of music to a definite time frame. Three of the pieces had already appeared on their previous album, but this still left over 40 minutes of music to learn.

“It meant doing what we were already used to,” says Mark Anderson. “Just more, and on a larger scale.”

The two sent endless recordings back and forth using a metronome almost like a click track to ground and discipline the second voice. Then there were the WhatsApp conversations to play around with the results.

Necati sees that discipline as core to the success of the project:

“We agreed a schedule for learning each piece and deadlines for sharing recordings which is how we drove it forward. It was important to be systematic. That was the only way it could work. It might otherwise have been all too easy to let things slip, especially when you think you’re not going to see each other for two months. Remote working has to be efficient and targeted. Then there’s the accountability we owe each other as a duo which undoubtedly helps.”

The album was recorded in Holy Trinity with All Saints Church in South Kensington using sound recordist Luca Gardani with whom they have a longstanding relationship.

“The acoustics there are amazing,” says Mark. “You play a note and it sounds forever. It was also important that we were able to show Naxos the sound quality we would be delivering and give them the confidence that could and would be reproduced for their label.”

The three often worked at recording through the night after the church had closed its doors to the public for the day, often finishing at five in the morning.

“This is where the benefits of our remote practice came into its own,” says Mark. “It can seem mechanical while we’re doing it, but it does mean that when we are finally in the same room playing together, those basics are already dealt with and we can go straight to the real musical discussion.”

But then the task of editing began, organised between London, Chicago and Columbia, where Gardani is based. Once again their existing organisational skills came to the fore and the whole operation was directed via a giant Google spreadsheet colour-coded by tracks and edits.

“So now suddenly everyone is talking about the logistics of how to collaborate and perform on-line – we’ve being doing it for eight years!” says Mark. You can almost hear him rolling his eyes.

This album is very personal for Necati, grounded as it is in the folk melodies both he and Belevi grew up listening to, but with a classical approach.

“Play these melody in Cyprus and anyone, Greek or Turkish, will recognise them at once. We are a small community on a small island and when a community gets smaller, feelings get bigger so this music is very powerful.”

Reviewing the album shortly after its release, the Classical Music Pod podcast praised

Belevi’s idiomatic understanding of the personality of the guitar as a classical solo instrument and the textures and colours with which he adapts these folk melodies creating “a feeling of place and a knowledge of people will transport the listener: a summer holiday in a CD.”

Listening to the different tracks it’s hard to imagine Mark and Necati are not able to practise together for weeks and months, their playing is so interwoven expressing an instinctive, reciprocal musical relationship.

As The Classical Music Pod observes: “It’s almost like [listening to] one giant double-necked 4-handed guitar. Lightness, joviality, a willing to play with each other really comes across. You can tell when people are playing stuff that means something to them personally… these two seem so in command of their instruments, their ensemble, the balance of the parts. The warmth of their playing and the pacing of each arrangement is really, really spot on; a joy to sit down and listen to.”