Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre, Rochdale

THE MERRAKI DUO: Saturday 9 October 2021   

Meera Maharaj (Flute)   James Girling (Guitar)

Norman Warwick hears of music crossing town borders

Graham Marshall, (right) of Rochdale Music Society, reported recently on social media that ´´´A capacity audience in Touchstones on Saturday, 9th October, gave overwhelming reassurance to the Rochdale Music Society trustees that their resumption of Concert Series following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions had been eagerly looked forward to by subscribers and public alike. It is good to note that the range of musical styles and performances offered year by year by the Society since its inception in 1980 is still appreciated.

This first concert of the 2021 – 2022 Concert Series was held in the Rochdale town centre venue, since the Heywood Civic Centre is not yet available to the Society.  It featured Flautist Meera Maharaj and Guitarist James Girling, performing as The Meraki Duo (left). The word  ’Meraki’ comes from the Japanese and means ‘from the heart and depth of the soul’. 

Although the Touchstones acoustic was not ideal, it served sufficiently well for the Meraki Duo to provide an evening of delightfully varied music in a well planned programme, which everyone present obviously thoroughly enjoyed.  Applause was universally enthusiastic at the end of each item, the first of which was the Sonatina for Violin and Piano Op. 100 by Dvorak. arranged for Flute and Guitar by Andrew Massey. Not the ‘New World’ Symphony, but written in the USA around the same time, this is a work exhibiting the same conflicting emotions of feeling exiled yet at home that makes it so attractive. The flute may not have the same warmth of tone of the violin, but it can be equally forceful when required, and render soaring melodies with passion and depth of feeling, as in this performance. Similarly, the guitar may be thought of as not being able to match the tone and power of the modern concert piano, but with the technical prowess of a performer like James Girling it can provide a no less complete and convincing accompaniment. ‘Arrangement’ do not always work, but this one did splendidly.

Meera Maharaj then played two complementary dance pieces for solo Flute, a Bach Allemande and a Gavotte by William Alwyn, both finely refined performances. James Girling followed on with two Bagatelles for solo Guitar by William Walton, which beautifully demonstrated the wide range of  melodic and harmonic resources available to an accomplished exponent of the acoustic guitar such as he.

The first half of the concert ended with the Duo giving a polished account of an arrangement of the wistful song, Beau Soir, by Debussy.

In the second half the audience was transported to South America for revelatory performances of some colourful and adventurous twentieth and twenty-first century music from that continent, beginning with three of the Tangos from the History of the Tango by Argentinian guitarist and composer, Astor Piazzolla, whose 100th birthday anniversary year this is. Flute and guitar danced together with just the right amounts of tender and passionate romance that this music shows developing over a period of some hundred or so years.

The last three works in the concert featured music by contemporary Brazilian composers, which no doubt opened the ears and minds of those in the audience who, like myself, are not familiar with all the technical explorations and accomplishments of classical guitarists in recent years. Rafael Marino Arcaro is a young composer whose 4 movement Suite for Flute and Guitar, written for the Meraki Duo in 2020, and called A Norte, Rio Preto – ‘North of  Rio Preto’ – makes enormous demands on both instrumentalists.  It is a musical embodiment of the nature of the Brazilian rain forest and its indigenous people, savagely tender and wildly beautiful, calling for extreme treatment of the instruments involved.  Would you believe the extraordinary sounds a flute or guitar can produce, and in such quick succession? No wonder this performance was greeted with gasps of astonishment and  rapturous approval. 

The planned concert ended with a let-your-hair-down account of the Quarteto Novo’s Misturada. Then, as an even more cathartic encore the Duo returned to play music from the film music score of Black Orpheus.

The enjoyment of music is one of the most satisfying things in human life. While birds and animals make their sounds involuntarily and make their primitive sounds unaware of what they are doing, we human beings have been able to use the given sounds of nature to construct musical languages with their extraordinary power to enrich our lives. We have even come to use the basic materials of acoustics in nature to provide us with a wealth of musical expression, corresponding to the insight provided by arts crafted for admiration. As we do not need to think about every word we use or the construction of every sentence put together to talk to one another about the very deepest, or most superficial, matters on our minds, as we about our daily lives, so we do not have to be schooled in musical techniques to be able to respond to the thoughts that composers share with us in music-making. Tunes and other musical images may swirl around in our heads and warm our hearts without us having to do anything other than respond, for which we have been give the powers.

During the recent lockdowns caused by covid-19 it has not been possible for The Rochdale Music Society to offer its usual season of six concerts. The Society is delighted to do so now and hope you will be able to come along to be moved and thrilled by the musical experiences the RMS is serving up with the help of their inspired performers on a menu designed to inspire ! RMS has been presenting concerts of great music by the world´s greatest composers in all styles since the nineteen eighties. Over the years RMS has welcomed into their borough some of the finest international artists, be they solo players, ensembles or orchestras and have even commissioned new works to be premiered in the town. Rochdale Music Society continue to provide the Borough with a wide range of musical experiences to enrich the lives of its inhabitants, This continues the tradition of excellence in music-making that is a hallmark of the mark of a co-operative life style long associated with the home of the co-operative movement, by inviting promising newcomers to appear with seasoned professionals.

The Rochdale Music Society’s next concert will be held in St. Chad’s Parish Church, Sparrow Hill, on Saturday, 27 November, when the Georgian pianistic genius, Luka Okros returns to Rochdale by audience demand and will include Nocturnes and Ballades by Chopin in what promises to be a  programme to remember.

For on line bookings go to

Full details on the website

Membership of Rochdale Music Society is free and open to one and who might wish to attend any of their concerts. You can join on-line at the society´s web site or pick up an application form at a concert. You are invited to join and to share with the existing membership the enjoyment of joyful music-making by fine artists, playing the works of great composers. You may pay at the door on each occasion or purchase a season ticket of six concerts for the price of five.

The primary sources for this article was a piece by Graham Marshall posted on social media in October 2021

In our occasional re-postings Sidetracks And Detours are confident that we are not only sharing with our readers excellent articles written by experts but are also pointing to informed and informative sites readers will re-visit time and again. Of course, we feel sure our readers will also return to our daily not-for-profit blog knowing that we seek to provide core original material whilst sometimes spotlighting the best pieces from elsewhere, as we engage with genres and practitioners along all the sidetracks & detours we take.

This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours. Norman is seen far left conducting an audience with pianist Martin Roscoe at a Rochdale Music Society event in 2015,

Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio 4.

As a published author and poet he was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (where he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.

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