Tom & Elena talk about the creation of the Jukebox
When the pandemic struck early in 2020, violinist Elena Urioste and pianist-composer Tom Poster responded by channelling their creative energies into #UriPosteJukeBox, a portmanteau of their surnames and a nod to the retro feel of the jukebox with its eclectic selection of songs to be chosen by the listener. The original intention was to produce one video of the duo performing together for every day of the lockdown (which at the time was anticipated to be relatively brief). What followed was a project that took off in ways the pair had never dreamed of, capturing the imaginations and hearts of listeners across the globe, embracing requests that traversed many musical genres, featuring commissions by contemporary composers, and entertaining followers with increasingly elaborate costumes, props, additional instruments, and multi-tracking.
In all, they made 88 videos – one for each key on a piano. The impact of the endeavour and the joy it brought in an extraordinarily challenging time were more formally recognised when the Jukebox won a Royal Philharmonic Society Inspiration Award. This album captures the spontaneous and varied feel of the original videos, drawing together some of the duo’s favourite pieces in a way that celebrates this joyous project and all those who contributed to it.
The album’s opening track, Tom Poster’s arrangement of Jerome Kern’s Look for the Silver Lining, embodies the spirit of the whole Jukebox project. Their work abruptly cancelled, the pair decided to look for a silver lining by creating something uplifting at a time when the music industry had been plunged into darkness. Tom explains that “the last thing we wanted to do was to do nothing”, and as Elena puts it, “we respond to goals. I probably would’ve put the violin in its case and not seen it for a month or two; Tom pre-empted this by suggesting that we create a daily goal for ourselves.” What began as an almost meditative approach to music-making, involving the daily discipline of creating something that reflected the ups and downs of isolation, quickly found an audience of listeners craving music, connection and catharsis. As Elena remembers, “the requests started coming in: firstly quite traditional, for violin and piano, then we let it be known that Tom is a phenomenal arranger. From there it took off! Requests got very strange very quickly…”
These requests spanned the erudite (Mozart and Messiaen) and the more mainstream (Britney Spears and ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’). Elena recalls their surprise at “just how large and far-reaching a community would form around the project; we received messages from people all over the world. People with very different tastes in music somehow found their way to the Jukebox.”
One of the most famous numbers was Tom’s mashup of Come On Eileen, Toxic and Baby Shark, which led to an interview on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’: “We had a very surreal call in our bathrobes talking about Britney Spears, which is not something I ever imagined happening”.
The repertoire expanded even further when Victoria Robey, OBE, offered to sponsor composer commissions. Elena describes what happened:
“Victoria Robey approached us a few weeks in, wondering whether we might consider using the platform as a place to premiere new works that she would generously sponsor. It was a tough time not just for performers but for all people in the industry and she wanted to create an incentive for composers to create something quickly. We put together a shortlist of six people and she made it possible for all of them to write something at short notice.”
All six commissions appear on the album: An Essay of Love by Mark Simpson (conceived for the pair even before they approached him), Bloom by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Emotiva by Clarice Assad, Arietta by Huw Watkins, Bha là eile ann (There was a different day) by Donald Grant, and Peace by Jessie Montgomery.
The arrangements made by Tom Poster included on the album reflect the often tender, nostalgic tone of the Jukebox repertoire: La vie en rose, El día que me quieras, Begin the Beguine, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Send in the Clowns. There is also Lili Boulanger’s Introduction et cortège, for which Tom Poster has reconstructed the Introduction.
The remaining programme includes the Sérénade espagnole by Cécile Chaminade and Farewell to Cucullain (Londonderry Air), both arranged by Fritz Kreisler; Fauré’s Andante, Op. 75; and – featuring their trademark multitracking, kazoos, recorders and swanee whistle – the Jukebox Toodle-oo. The duo relishes this vibrant breadth of genres.
As Tom explains:
“This is the music we’ve loved our whole lives. The music world likes to pigeon-hole people, but this felt like the most authentic version of ourselves musically that we’ve ever been able to be publicly, because this is the music we’ve always loved playing.”