Composers Now Festival and CUNY Diversity Projects Development Fund
present “Eastern Currents” with Ensemble 365
Sara Paar, soprano; Karen Rostron, violin; Alice Jones, flute; Marta Bedkowska-Reilly, cello; Mirna Lekić, piano
Tenri Cultural Institute, New York, NY
February 13, 2016
A hardy band of two dozen or so listeners braved the coldest night in one hundred years to attend a well-played program of non-standard music from the “Asian and Arab” worlds. The players in Ensemble 365 met while graduate students at CUNY in 2011, and their unity shows. Each is a very good individual artist, and they combine excellently as well.
Two works by a female composer from Azerbaijan, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, were presented: Three Watercolors (1987) for voice and ensemble (including prepared piano). Only three of the movements contained the voice, the others were Prelude, Interlude, and Postlude for piano. The excellent soprano Sara Paar was sensitive to every expression in the text, by female Azerbaijani poet Nigyar Rafibeili. Ms. Ali-Zadeh’s second work was heard after intermission: the Music for Piano, with a glass-bead necklace placed over some of the strings, to give the impression of a folk-instrument (mugam). Mirna Lekic’s piano sound was beautiful, even when she played in the register with the necklace, and her rhythmic acuity gave subtle energy to every gesture. I’m sure many members of the audience, sitting in the chilly space of the Tenri Cultural Institute, could identify with the lines: “My soul is like the earth,/Awaiting the radiant springtime . . .”
Duo for flute and cello (2012) by Karim Al-Zand (Tunisian, but raised in Ottawa, Canada) consisted of three short movements, with the cello deliberately “mistuned” (scordatura) in the first section Musette, to mimic a drone instrument. The finale, Snapdragon, had great drive and an exciting conclusion.
In many ways, the conventionality of Arno Babadjanian (Armenian, influenced by Rachmaninoff/Khatchaturian) provided the weakest music of the night. The Larghetto of his Piano Trio in F Sharp Minor (1952) was pretty and lyrical, but it meandered, and did not seem to have the same expressive urgency that the other composers exhibited. Perhaps it would have benefited from being heard in context, between the other two movements of the complete trio.
The evening concluded with two sets of songs, again with the pure-voiced Ms. Paar, accompanied by Ms. Lekić and (in the second set) piano trio, by Ramin Heydarbeygi, who was present, and provided verbal program notes to his own music. The first set Astvihad was commissioned by Ensemble 365 in 2012. The six poems, in modern Persian (Gathic or old Avestan) all deal with death (the demon of death as conceived in the Iranian/Zoroastrian tradition), yet they were not wallowing in somber music, but rather had a sort of contained fury, appropriate to the subject.
The second set of songs Aramesh (2015) dealt with the theme of exile, and the poet of the third song Ruminations of a Tree, Dayani, was also present at the concert. The exile theme remains relevant in an age that sees massive displacement from the Middle East (Syria). How pleased both poet and musician must have been. Ensemble 365 has commissioned over 150 works, and they provide valuable and persuasive advocacy for music which would certainly otherwise languish. Bravi.