Mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital leaps cultural boundaries through collaboration

Avi Avital has changed what it means to play the mandolin

Over the span of five years and four solo albums (plus a prior contribution to a 2010 Metropolis Ensemble recording for which he received a Best Solo Instrumentalist Grammy nomination), Israeli-born mandolinist Avi Avital has been elevating the mandolin’s prominence in the classical world and expanding its possibilities beyond the folk realms in which it has deeper history.

Avital’s new album “Avital Meets Avital,” made with Israeli-American double-bassist Omer Avital (no relation), traces connections between classical music and jazz, while 2014’s “Between Worlds” located a bridge between classical music and Romanian folk dances, Astor Piazzolla tangos, Spanish love songs, klezmer, and a spontaneously arranged Welsh traditional.

A similar boundary-spanning spirit guides the program for Avital’s concert Wednesday at The Broad Stage, which promises classical, baroque and jazz pieces as well as improvisations with soulful Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and Brooklyn-based ensemble the Knights. Avital by himself would deliver an engaging experience, but the collaborative presence of Azmeh and the Knights adds particular zing.

The Knights, an adventurous chamber music collective whose size flexes depending on their material, recently released “Azul,” featuring globally celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma — a mentoring thread between all of Wednesday’s artists.

Azmeh, a green card-holding 16-year resident of New York City who was stuck in Beirut during the first of the Trump administration’s travel bans, rendered some of the most poignant moments in Morgan Neville’s 2015 documentary about Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, “The Music of Strangers.”

This promises a full evening of culture-crossing virtuosity.

— Bliss Bowen

Avi Avital performs with the Knights and Kinan Azmeh at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 8) at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $50 to $90. Call (310) 434-3200 or visit