Arts & Events

Jordi Savall & Hespèrion XXI Perform Ottoman, Greek, Armenian, & Sephardic Music

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday February 27, 2015 - 09:10:00 AM

On Friday, February 20, Jordi Savall returned to Berkeley’s First Congreg-ational Church with his Hespèrion XXI Ensemble to perform music from diverse Balkan, Iberian and Middle Eastern traditions. For some fifteen years, Jordi Savall has immersed himself in researching the music of the Ottoman Empire based in Istanbul. Of great importance in this research was The Book of the Science of Music by Dimitrie Cantemir (1693-1723), a Moldovan composer and music theorist who compiled in this work the most important collection of 16th and 17th century Ottoman instrumental music to have survived to the present day. 

For Jordi Savall’s current tour, Hespèrion XXI is comprised of two oud players—Driss el Maloumi of Morocco and Yurdal Tokcan of Turkey; Turkish kanun player Hakan Güngör; Spaniard Davıd Mayoral on percussion; an Armenıan instrumentalist, Haig Sarikouyoumdjian on ney and duduk; Jordi Savall on viola da gamba; and a Greek santur player, Dimitri Psonis. (The latter was unfortunately unable to perform at Friday’s concert due to ill health.) All these musicians have broad experience playing this repertoire of music. Yurdal Tokcan, for example, answered affirmatively when I asked if he had played with Ross Daly, the Irish troubador who lives in Crete, records with Greek, Turkish, and other musicians of many nationalities, and has done so much to foster our awareness of the cross-fertilization of Greek, Turkish, and other Balkan musical traditions. Daly hosts music festivals each summer in the Cretan village of Houdetsi where he lives. Central to the music played by Jordi Savall’s group at Friday’s concert is the makam, or mode, for Ottoman musical traditions are based on a complex modal system. Hespèrion XXI opened Friday’s concert by playing a makam ascribed to Dervis Mehmed and cited in Dimitrie Cantemir’s aforementioned The Book of the Science of Music. Hakan Güngör on kanun, a zither type instrument that is plucked rather than hammered, began this makam, then was joined by Savall and the other musicians. The second piece, La rose enflorece, is from the tradition of Sephardic Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492, many of which settled in Turkey. The third piece was a plaintive Armenian lament played on ney, a Pan pipe, by Armenian musician Haig Sarikouyoumdjian, accompanied by Jordi Savall with a soft drone on viola da gamba. The fourth and final piece of the first set was another makam cited by Cantemir. 

The second set began with an Ottoman lament, which was followed by a lively Greco-Turkish song. Next came another haunting Armenian lament on ney or duduk, again accompanied by a subtle drone on viola da gamba. The fourth and final piece before intermission was another makam cited by Cantemir. 

After intermission, Hespèrion XXI opened with a Sephardic song from Sarajevo, “Paxarico tu te llamas.” Next came an Armenian song and dance, “Al aylukhs,” followed by another makam from Cantemir’s book. This third set drew to a close with a Sephardic traditional song. The fourth and final set began with a plain-tive Armenian lament on ney or duduk, exquisitely played by Sarikouyoumdjian, followed by a Turkish-Greek song and dance, Koniali, which featured clicksticks played by percussionist David Mayoral. Next came the beautiful song “Una pastora,” which was first noted in a Greek play performed for the Greek community of Smyrna in the 1880s, but which is attributed to the Sephardic tradition. The final piece of the concert was another makam cited by Cantemir. Hespèrion XXI also played an encore which featured oud player Driss el Maloumi on vocals. Following the concert there was a reception for Hespèrion XXI at The Musical Offering, which enabled those who attended to speak briefly with Jordi Savall and his fellow musicians.