In the so-called "Abono estelar 2015" at the Colón (the Barenboim Festival of Music and Reflexion) there was a completely unexpected inclusion: a chamber concert of Iranian and Arabic music. The hand programme announced first the Shiraz Ensemble and then a clarinet/piano duo, but we were told via loudspeaker that we would hear it the other way around.
Moot points: a) the programme nowhere says that the players are members of the WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra) but the entrance ticket does! b) if you believe (as I do) that the Colón is for what is called "classical music" for lack of a better word, this concert is as out of place as Argentine folklore or "bossa nova" at an opera house used as well as a concert hall. c) If I accept the idea, what I want is true music of those origins, no fusion with other traditions. And this didn´t happen. d) Also, why Iran when the logic of the WEDO would have led to Arabic and Israeli music?
So you see that I have my misgivings about this experience. I have to be honest, I am not an expert on these musical worlds as I was bred with Occidental classical history. But I have heard some of it through the decades and I think I can discern the authentic.
In this sense, I certainly preferred Shiraz to the duo, and you will soon see why. First, I´d like to know why the Duo is made up of a Syrian (Kinan Azmeh, clarinet) and a Sri Lankan (Dinuk Wijeratne, piano). For Sri Lanka is certainly not an Arabic country, as it is made up of two basic ethnic groups, the Sinhalese (Buddhists) and the Tamil (Hindus). So the Arabic side was represented only by the Syrian artist.
But it would have been far more logical and useful to have a true Arabian group where the natural star is the ´ud, the Arabic form of the lute; in fact, the latter evolved from it and became an essential instrument in Europe. And we should have heard the characteristic Arabic scales and the "maqam" (melody-types in a given style). But we were given three compositions by Azmeh and two by Wijeratne. Plus an introductory one by both based on Bartók´s melody "Pe loc".
Both of them are graduates of the Juilliard School. As the programme says, their project "fuses elements of the Arabic and the Southeastern-Asiatic vocabulary with the language of (Western) academic music and jazz". And I personally feel that many slides and inflexions of the clarinetist sound akin to Jewish Klezmer music.
I found Azmeh more creative and his playing very attractive "per se". Wijeratne seemed rather limited and minimalistic, abusing of playing monotonous rhythms on the strings of the piano. In Azmeh´s "Airports" an Egyptian violinist joined them in a long solo.
The Shiraz Ensemble was much closer to the mark and it provided an occasion to hear some interesting instruments. Khosro Soltani played duduk and ney, similar to flutes; Kian Soltani (his son?), kemantche and cello. The latter, also played by Astrig Siranossian (an Iranian-Armenian ?), is clearly Occidental and shouldn´t be a part of Shiraz, but the kemantche is worth knowing: "a long stick extending through a coconut" (Willi Apel). And the daf is a tambourine (skillfully played by Hamidreza Ojaghy). Both Siranossian and Ojaghy also sang, and she (Siranossian) also danced with stately and elegant moves, dressed beautifully.
There was a total of seven pieces: the first three were played continuously; than Kian Soltani explained that the following three would be about Love, Nature and Destiny; the final work was written by Kian Soltani: "Persian Fire Dance". All the Shiraz music is thus defined in the programme: "a combination of Iranian folk, traditional and contemporary"; I fail to see the difference between the first two. But it was mostly attractive to my ears. The three players of the First Part joined the Shiraz in an encore to end the concert.
Big gaffe: the programme states that the music would last 50 minutes; in fact, we heard 97! And a final remark: did this show justify the very high prices? I think not.
A typically Barenboim-ish idea: a concert with the same programme played in temples of the three great monotheistic religions; the Islamic Temple of San Juan (pity that it wasn´t the big one at Avenida Bullrich), the splendid synagogue Templo Libertad (it is the one I chose for practical reasons of distance) and the Catholic Cathedral. They are called "Conciertos para la convivencia".
There was a lot of talk presenting the project in terms of peace and fraternity: especially from Rabbi Sergio Bergman, Barenboim himself (eloquent in his words but not in his rather halting delivery) and the leaders of their religious communities. Plenty of authorities were present.
The Metals Quintet of the WEDO is certainly good and we rarely hear this sort of ensemble; in fact it sounds brash and open-air, and the acoustics were too resonant for it. In the First Part, scores in arrangement (Bach´s Contrapunctus I from "The Art of Fugue" and Bruckner´s motet "Locus iste") and written for the combination: Lutoslawski, Lior Shambadal, Kareem Roustom and Steven Verhelst. In the Second Part, pieces by Jan Koetsier, the Uruguayan Enrique Crespo and a tango by José Carli. It was invigorating and pleasant.
For Buenos Aires Herald