Abaca String Band returns to play Amp for first time



Tonight’s concert is the the Abaca String Band’s fourth appearance at Chautauqua Institution, but it is the group’s first appearance in the Amphitheater and part of a personal “reboot.”

Due to a serious illness for frontman and 8-string guitarist Andrew Schulman, the group has not toured extensively since 2009. The band will play at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amp.

The Abaca String Band consists of Schulman, violinist Robert Zubrycki, mandolinist Tamara Volskaya, violist Julie Goodale, and bassist Bradley Lovelace and was founded in 1991. Abaca got its start playing for Metropolitan Museum of Art special events and the Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert Series. In the summer of 1998, the group landed their first performances at major venues — the Newport Music Festival and Chautauqua Institution.

“That’s what really got us going into playing major venues,” Schulman said.

Abaca String Band returned to Chautauqua in 2003 and 2006.

Though all of their instruments are classical, the combination of instruments is not, Schulman said.

The fact that no one, to date, has ever written for that combination is actually “very liberating,” Schulman said. “It means that our repertoire can actually come from an incredible variety of sources.”

Schulman, who serves as the group’s main arranger, said they play “classical” music, which he understands as music that will endure through many generations. This concert will therefore include music from diverse sources such as Vivaldi, Mozart, Ravel, the Beatles, Duke Ellington and traditional klezmer music.

The group continued to tour until Schulman suffered complications from surgery in 2009. Placed in a medically induced coma, he was near death when his wife thought to play Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” in his hospital room.

“By that night, I was out of the woods,” Schulman said. “It literally saved my life.”

Schulman shared his story in his upcoming book, Waking the Spirit: A Musician’s Journey Healing Body, Mind and Soul, and a documentary titled “Andrew and Wendy.”

“Andrew and Wendy” will be shown at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall and will be followed by a Q-and-A session with Schulman and one of the doctors who treated him.

The screening of the documentary is a contributing factor in the decision to have the Abaca String Band play in the Amp rather than Lenna, where their previous Chautauqua performances have been held, Schulman said.

When Schulman told Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming, about the book and film, Merkley planned the schedule as it stands.

“I called Marty because he’s always been wonderful to us. We all love Marty Merkley,” Schulman said. “I’ve played in over 40 states, and I’ve played all over Europe, and Marty’s the best. He’s that perfect combination of very professional and a really nice guy.”