Daphna Mor and Nina Stern, recorder players by trade, lead the ad-hoc group. For this program, it also comprises violinist Jesse Kotansky; Tamer Pinarbasi, kanun (a Turkish zither of 78 strings and 26 courses, with nine levers to bend tones); and Luke Notary on a variety of percussion instruments, including the cajon, a Peruvian bench drum that served as his seat throughout the concert.
Mor and Stern branched out from a battery of recorders. Mor took up the Turkish ney flute and Stern played the chalumeau, which I had never heard before. That instrument, no bigger than a soprano recorder, sounds very much like the middle-bottom third of a clarinet. (So that's why they call it the chalumeau register.)
|Daphne Mor, Nina Stern. Photo courtesy of the|
East of the River website.
To extend that thinking a little: Most Westerners would peg this entire program as Gypsy music. Romas traveled all these lands, picked up what they heard, mixed it and brought it West. High-brow Germans appropriated it as they pleased. Movie composers borrowed and adapted it as local-color scoring, what you hear when James Bond's jet touches down in Bucharest. Exotic as this music appears to be on paper ("The Samai uses the 10/8 rhythmic mode... throughout the taslim and the first three khanat...") it all sounds very familiar. Most of it turns on some sort of ritornello/rondo form with recurring sections between tangents, so it's not hard to follow.
Levantera doesn't teach us much about any one musical culture. But the subliminal message might be: in a region of fluid borders and numerous, roving subcultures, national boundaries have little influence on music. Also, the gap between courtly Classical traditions and music of the caravans and villages is narrow. To hear East of the River play it, both high and low musical culture have traditions of virtuoso instrumentalism and both allow plenty of room for improvisation.
These five players are very good at all of this and very good at it together. Pinarbasi's two extended kanan solos, Longa Farahfaza and Longa Nahawand, were as daunting to play and as amazing to hear as the most complex cadenza from any piano concerto. Though his instrument comes from the high-art tradition, Pinarbasi was entirely at home joining his four colleagues in a set of three tavern-shaking Balkan dances.
I like to learn a little more from this sort of concert than Stern and Mor were willing to teach. They didn't tell us much about the music from the stage and the program notes were skimpy. But this was a concert, not an archaeological dig. East of the River played the music as if born to it centuries ago and far away. They played with vigor, verve and soul.
Next up for Early Music Now: Four Nations Ensemble plays LeClair and Rameau, April 12.
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