ECUADOR: Electroclásica - Martha Psyko
The ambitious Ecuadorian violinist takes on some of the most popular classical pieces, as well as popular folk and tango pieces, with a modern twist
When updating a classic piece of music to the modern day, one always runs the risk of it not living up to the original, it eventually sounding horribly dated, or both. As such, it takes a brave musician to attempt it. After all, pieces of music like Für Elise, The Blue Danube, or the 1812 Overture are basically perfect as they are. You don’t need to chop and change them. While most attempts do end in failure, there are a few notable exceptions, with perhaps the most famous one being Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven, which mixes Beethoven’s 5th with disco. It is a relic of its time, but it’s certainly charming, and its ability to smoothly transpose classical music into disco is pretty impressive, even if it may be the exception to the rule. It is here where we turn our attention to the 2016 album Electroclásica, by the unusually named Ecuadorian musician Martha Psyko, who, it must be said, has taken on the challenge ably. A violinist with a passion for rock and electronic music, her name is taken from her chief violinist inspirations - Niccolò Paganini, Pablo de Sarasate, Eugène Ysaÿe, Rodolphe Kreutzer, and David Oistrakh - the first letters of their last names spell her adopted artistic name. In the album she adapts classical pieces, as well as other pieces of music that while they may not be classical music, are nonetheless classic pieces of pop, tango, or film music.
“All of these [songs] show off her brilliant violin skills.”
The potential for cheesiness is very large, and for the most part she avoids it, though we do undeniably fall into some of the traps I mentioned earlier. Songs such as Danza Húngara (based on Brahms’ Hungarian Dances) are decidedly ‘obvious’ in their composition. That’s not to say they’re not enjoyable – I quite like the track in some respects – but there is an element of trying a bit too hard with a piece of music that did not cry out for rearranging in the first place. Where I find the album to be more successful is with the pieces like La Cumparsita, El Cóndor Pasa, and Canon: Pachelbel. All of these show off her brilliant violin skills, but also, they’re songs that work better in her style. Pachelbel’s Canon is renowned for its ability to be reworked in a million ways, and it works perfectly here, and La Cumparsita, the Uruguayan tango classic similarly takes well to being updated to this electro-rock style. It is a surprise to me that the gentle acoustics of El Cóndor Pasa, made famous by Simon and Garfunkel sounds so natural in this faster-paced version, but Psyko makes it work. I also have a real soft spot for her version of Zorba’s theme from Zorba the Greek. The original is a classic, but the violin version she does suits it perfectly, and the EDM-style backbeat is somehow perfect.
The album works nicely, but it’s not flawless. I think the central question of why adapt these songs remains somewhat unanswered. With a few exceptions like Zorba el Griego not sure if anything is really added to the songs by doing this to them. Her versions of the Hungarian Dances and Beethoven’s 5th are accomplished and fun to listen to, but I doubt I’ll go back to it very much. The electronic and rock components are nice garnishes, but they’re not essential. Most often, I found myself loving the violin, which takes the lead vocalist position almost, and almost ignored the rest of the instrumentation. She has also adapted several Latin pop songs from the 1960s, such as La Bikina and La Pollera Colorá, songs I had not heard before, and as such they served as a nice break from the popular compositions I knew, though for a Latin audience this will not be the case. Will it age well? Who knows. I suspect it may be seen as a product of its time, yet Psyko’s excellent violin playing will surely remain as its most worthwhile component.