Tag Archives: western classical music

Artist Profiles: Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma – Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Yo-Yo Ma was born to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age 4 and soon moved with his family to New York, where he spent most of his formative years. Later, his principal teacher was Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School. He sought out a traditional liberal arts education to expand upon his conservatory training, graduating from Harvard University in 1976. He plays two instruments, a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius.

Yo-Yo Ma maintains a balance between his engagements as soloist with orchestras throughout the world and his recital and chamber music activities. He draws inspiration from a wide circle of collaborators, creating programs with such artists as Emanuel Ax, Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, Pamela Frank, Jeffrey Kahane, Kayhan Kalhor, Ton Koopman, Jaime Laredo, Bobby McFerrin, Edgar Meyer, Mark Morris, Mark O’Connor, the late Isaac Stern, Kathryn Stott, Wu Man, Wu Tong and David Zinman. Each of these collaborations is fueled by the artists’ interactions, often extending the boundaries of a particular genre.

One of Ma’s goals is the exploration of music as a means of communication, and as a vehicle for the migrations of ideas, across a range of cultures throughout the world. To that end, he has taken time to immerse himself in subjects as diverse as native Chinese music with its distinctive instruments and the music of the Kalahari bush people in Africa.

Taking this interest even further, Ma established the Silk Road Project to promote the study of the cultural, artistic and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade route that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. By examining the flow of ideas throughout this vast area, the Project seeks to illuminate the heritages of the Silk Road countries and identify the voices that represent these traditions today.

Yo-Yo Ma is strongly committed to educational programs that not only bring young audiences into contact with music but also allow them to participate in its creation. While touring, he takes time whenever possible to conduct master classes as well as more informal programs for students-musicians and non-musicians alike.

In 2004, Ma won his 15th Grammy for Obrigado Brazil, his best-selling release that celebrates the music of Brazil. The success of that recording and a subsequent international tour inspired a sequel disc, released in 2004, entitled Obrigado Brazil Live in Concert, which went on to win a Latin Grammy.

Yo-Yo Ma formed The Silk Road Ensemble in 2000. It is a collective of internationally renowned performers and composers from more than 20 countries. Many of the musicians first came together under the artistic direction of Yo-Yo Ma at a workshop at Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts in 2000. Since then. in various configurations. Ensemble artists have collaborated on a diverse range of musical and multimedia projects, presenting innovative performances that spring from Eastern and Western traditions and contemporary musical crossroads. The Silk Road Ensemble has recorded several albums and performed to critical acclaim throughout Asia. Europe and North America.

The Silk Road Project acts as an umbrella organization and common resource for a range of cultural and educational programs, participating in more than a dozen festivals, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2002. To learn more, visit the Silk Road Project website at silkroadproject.org.

In 2011, Yo-Yo Ma participated in the acclaimed The Goat Rodeo Sessions, a collaboration that brought together four string virtuosos: Yo-Yo Ma, fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile. The cross-genre album combined classical, jazz and American roots music. A DVD titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions Live followed in 2012.

Yo-Yo Ma’s classical music discography is quite extensive. An enormous boxed set titled Yo-Yo Ma: 30 Years Outside the Box contains 90 CDs that include his classical works as well as the albums focused on tango, the music of Brazil and other traditions.

Silk Road Ensemble Discography:

Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet (2002)
Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon (2005)
New Impossibilities (2007)
Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago (2008)
Off the Map (2009)
A Playlist Without Borders (Sony Classical, 2013)
Sing Me Home (Sony Masterworks, 2016)

Website: www.yo-yoma.com

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Artist Profiles: Derek Gripper

Derek Gripper - Photo by Svend Withfelt
Derek Gripper – Photo by Svend Withfelt

South African guitar maestro and violinist Derek Gripper was born November 14, 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Gripper began his musical training at the age of six on the violin. After studying classical music in Cape Town for the following 13 years, he began to look abroad for musical inspiration. This exploration took him to India where he studied South Indian music.

On his return home, Gripper started to focus on the guitar, trying to find a new direction for the instrument. He was attracted to the use of multiple layers in the music of Olivier Messiaen and the African-influenced structures of Steve Reich, as well as guitar arrangements of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

After a series of groundbreaking albums that redefined South African music, Gripper began to integrate the music of other composers in his performances. His long-time attraction to the music of Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti led to a project to transcribe this musician’s guitar music recorded together with his own compositions on The Sound of Water (2012).

Derek Gripper’s investigation of Malian music has created a new form of classical guitar music, formed out of one of Africa’s most fertile musical traditions. His ninth album, One Night on Earth: Music from the Strings of Mali was recorded in a single all-night session and released in late 2012. The album interprets the kora compositions of Malian virtuoso Toumani Diabaté on solo guitar.

Gripper’s most recent works includes transcriptions and improvisations focused on the work of African composer/performers such as Madosini of South Africa, Ali Farka Touré, Ballaké Sissoko, Salif Keita and Fanta Sacko from Mali, and Amadu Bansang Jobarteh from the Gambia, as well as his own original compositions based on the music of the Western Cape of South Africa and beyond.

Derek Gripper’s album, Libraries on Fire, demonstrates his ability to speak the language of the jelis (oral historians / praise singers).

Discography:

Sagtevlei, with Alex van Heerden (open record, 2002)
Blomdoorns, eight string guitar (open record, 2003)
Kai Kai, compositions for solo guitar (2009)
Prayers And Dances II, Bach, solo guitar (2009)
Ayo, compositions for solo guitar (2009)
Songs for the Swans Left Behind, Frankfurt, vinyl release (2009)
Ale!X, with Alex van Heerden and Brydon Bolton (2009)
Rising, with Udai Mazumdar (2010)
The Sound Of Water, music by Derek Gripper and Egberto Gismonti (2011)
One Night On Earth: Music from the Strings of Mali, music by Toumani Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, Vincent Segal, Ali Farka Touré (New Cape Records, 2012)
Libraries On Fire, music by Toumani Diabate, Sidiki Diabate, Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, Sekou Batourou Kouyate (New Cape Records, 2015)

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Exquisite Sarod-Violin Collaboration

Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, Elmira Darvarova – Amalgam (Affetto Records, 2016)

Amalgam is a beautiful collaboration between the world of Indian classical and folk, western classical music and Bulgarian folk music. It’s the continuation of the much-admired “Soul Strings album in which siblings Amaan Ali Bangash (Amaan Ali Khan) and Ayaan Ali Bangash (Ayaan Ali Khan) collaborated with violinist Elmira Darvarova.

This time, on amalgam, Aman and Ayaan have also brought in their father, renowned sarod maestro and composer Amjad Ali Khan. Most of the album features raga compositions by Amjad Ali Khan. Elmira Darvarova adds one of her own compositions inspired by Bulgarian folk songs to the mix.

The two great classical music traditions meet and interact wonderfully. Throughout the album there are moments of calm along with segments of dazzling virtuosity. The quartet is joined on some pieces by tabla master Anubrata Chatterjee.

The lineup on the album includes: Amjad Ali Khan on sarod, Amaan Ali Bangash on sarod, Ayaan Ali Bangash on sarod, Elmira Darvarova on violin and Anubrata Chatterjee on tabla.

Amalgam presents masterful performances by open minded, superb instrumentalists, exquisitely bridging South Asian and western traditions.

Buy Amalgam

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Artist Profiles: Souad Massi

Souad Massi
Souad Massi

Souad Massi is a Paris-based Algerian singer-songwriter. With a beautiful voice and a large palette of influences to draw from, Souad Massi is one of the most interesting new singers to come from Algeria. Influenced equally by shaabi music, French chanson, flamenco, 1960s American folk and a variety of African traditional music, this Algerian guitarist and singer makes music that is at once exotic and familiar.

Souad Massi was born August 23, 1972 in Bab en Oued, Algeria, a poor, multi-ethnic neighborhood in the hills above Algiers. Her family had come from Kabylia, the mountainous home of the Berber people, a culturally estranged population in modern Algeria. It is tempting to link Souad’s career to those of socially conscious Kabyl singer/songwriters like Matoub Lounes and Ait Mengeullet. But despite great affection for her Berber roots, Souad has always felt at peace with her blended identity, part Berber, part Arab, part Turkish and Persian-in short, Algerian. Her struggle for identity has centered on her vocation as a musician, not her ethnicity.

Souad’s father was a chartered accountant, who enjoyed chaabi music-urban street pop. Her mother preferred Arabic classical music, but also bent her ear to James Brown and Aretha Franklin. For Souad, films inspired an early passion for music. A self-described “tom boy,” she loved Westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the top of the list. These films led to her to discover country and folk music, Kenny Rogers and Emmy Lou Harris, Loudon Wainwright III, and later Tracy Chapman. Her uncle played flamenco guitar, and Souad also developed a passion for that style, finding its rough, evocative vocal style an intriguing departure from the more genteel Arabic vocal music she grew up with.

When Souad succumbed to depression as a teenager, her musical brother Hassan nurtured her with music, enrolling her in guitar lessons and coaching her at home. She began writing poetry in the tradition of Arabic love poets, and soon put the two together, performing her songs informally for friends.

School took Souad out of Algiers for awhile, first to Taghit, at the edge of the Sahara, where she studied architecture, then to Tizi Ouzou, in Kabylia. Bored without the stimulation of the big city, she returned to Algiers to study at the Institute of Public Works. In the late 90s, she took a job as town planner, and played music at night. She began with a flamenco-oriented group called Trianas d’Alger, but soon left to indulge a newfound passion for hardcore rock music.

She joined a rock band called Atakor and recorded her debut cassette, Souad, with them in 1997. The cassette’s success led to radio and TV appearances. But with fame came danger. Rock groups faced fundamentalist protests and sometimes violence at festivals. At a time when musicians were being targeted for assassination, she was afraid to press her career forward. At the same time, the more she discovered her own voice as a musician, the more the broadcast media became wary of her, and began to censor her simply by neglecting her. Caught between a fearful military government and scornful fundamentalists, Souad felt trapped.

Subsequently, the fateful invitation arrived for Souad Massi to perform a concert in Paris. TV producer Aziz Smati, himself a victim of a fundamentalist shooting, had escaped to France as a paraplegic, and teamed up with radio broadcaster Mohammed Allalou to organize a festival of Algerian women at the Cabaret Sauvage. Once in France, energized in the aftermath of that life-changing debut, Souad recorded her debut CD, Raoui (Island/Wrasse), a set of stylistically adventurous and highly personal songs inspired by a tempestuous, ill-fated love affair. The songs were frankly confessional, and cast an unflinching eye on the darkness she had experienced in her life.

She mostly sang in Arabic, showcasing a voice with stark emotional power and arresting subtlety, but she also sang in French, as on “J’ai Pas du Temps,” a languid rock ballad in which she laments, “It was said to me that life was beautiful/But I find these times cruel/The black smoke took the place of the sky.” Raoui sold over 100,000 copies, and although she was still an unknown in the Middle East and North Africa, Souad Massi quickly became an Arab music pop star in Europe.

Her 2001 WOMEX appearance was a revelation, propelling Raoui (Storyteller) onto plenty of best of lists, and garnering her a nomination in the Radio 3 World Music Awards.

Souad’s unique road to success has left her free to make her own stylistic choices, rather than conform to the established genres for Algerian singers: rai, chaabi, Arab-Andalusian or classical music. On her album Deb (Island/Wrasse), Souad continues her impressive musical evolution embracing flamenco, gypsy rumba, and even Congolese music, while maintaining her identity as a highly personal songwriter. Now based in Paris, Souad Massi has had the time to let her musical sensibility mature, meet other artists and tour extensively.

Discography:

Raoui [Storyteller] (Island – Universal, 2001)
Deb (AZ – Universal & Wrasse Records Wrass 096, 2003)
Mesk Elil (Wrasse Records, 2005)
Live acoustique (2007)
Ô Houria (2010)
El Mutakallimun (Wrasse Records, 2015)

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A Cuban Dimension for New American Music

Miller, Bowyer, Beck, Bourland, Carollo, Brandman, Mobley, Murray – Abrazo – The Havana Sessions (Ansonica Records, 2016)

Abrazo – The Havana Sessions contains newly composed music for big band, small jazz combo, choir, and chamber ensembles. The composers are American, the performers are Cuban. This collaboration was easier after the restoration of diplomatic connections between the United States and Cuba in December 2014.

The list of composers includes Bunny Beck, Roger Bourland, Donald Bowyer, Margaret Brandman, John Carollo, Timothy Miller, Mel Mobley, and Michael Murray. The Cuban musicians are current or former members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, the Buena Vista Social Club, Irakere, and other ensembles.

Abrazo is released under Ansonica Records, a new imprint created by Parma Records. “Producing new music by living composers is my passion, and hearing musicians play with this level of preparation, dedication, and ingenuity was invigorating,” says Parma Recordings CEO Bob Lord. “We went right to the source, and sure enough they brought a totally new dimension to the music – a Cuban dimension, a feel and a sound and a perspective unlike anything else in the world.”

The album contains one disc featuring the jazz works. The musicians deliver an outstanding form of Latin Jazz infused with Cuban styles like son, danzón, cha-cha-cha, and more. The ensemble includes much-admired pianist Rolando Luna, who was a member of Buena Vista Social Club and Omara Portuondo’s band.

Disc 2 contains the classical works featuring impressive interpretations of madrigals, duets, quartets and other formats.

Abrazo – The Havana Sessions demonstrates the extraordinary musical talent found in Cuba, spanning a wide-range of musical styles.

By Abrazo – The Havana Sessions in the Americas

Buy Abrazo: The Havana Sessions in Europe

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Simon Shaheen to present Arab music and flamenco fusion in New York

 Simon Shaheen - Photo by Joslyn Duncan
Simon Shaheen – Photo by Joslyn Duncan

Oud maestro Simon Shaheen and special guests will present a musical program that brings to life the Arab music of Al-Andalus and blends it with the art of flamenco. The show will take place on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Baruch Performing Arts Center’s Mason Hall, 17 Lexington Avenue at 23rd Street, New York City.

Simon Shaheen, one of the most influential artists of his generation, is an acclaimed musician, composer, and educator. Born in the village of Tarshiha in the Galilee into a Palestinian family, Shaheen was immersed in music in early childhood. He began to learn to play the ‘ud (oud) at the age of five with his father Hikmat Shaheen, a famous teacher of Arab music and a master ‘ud player.

In 1980, two years after graduating from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem, Simon Shaheen moved to New York to complete his graduate studies in performance at the Manhattan School of Music, and later in music education and musicology at Columbia University. He went on to form two groups: the Near Eastern Music Ensemble that performs the highest standard of traditional Arab music, and Qantara, which brings to life Shaheen’s vision for the unbridled fusion of Arab, jazz, Western classical, and Latin American music.

As a composer of chamber music, Simon Shaheen has written numerous works including “Zafir” for the Imani Winds and “The Call” for a chamber string orchestra. He has written music and scores for theater and films, including The Sheltering Sky, and Malcolm X, and released seven recordings, including The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab and the Grammy-nominated Blue Flame.

In 1994, he received the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship, the United States’ highest honor in the traditional arts. In 1997, he founded the Arabic Music Retreat at Mount Holyoke College, an annual event that brings together the finest educators, performers, and students of Arab music for intensive study and performance.

In addition to his two groups, Shaheen tours as a solo artist internationally and as a lecturer throughout the academic world promoting awareness of Arab music. He is currently teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

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