Saturday 29 September 2012

Dijvan Gasparyan and Hossein Alizadeh live at the Barbican

A traditional Armenian piece featuring Gasparyan and Alizadeh

I really wanted to get tickets for the Barbican's evening of Iraqi music- "By the banks of the Tigris" on Thursday night. Yair Dalal, an Iraqi born Israeli and musical maestro of the oud and violin - and he's a damn fine singer too - was playing. Unfortunately I left it too late and the event sold out. However, all was not lost as I noticed that last night at the Barbican main hall, there was to be a concert of Armenian and Iranian music, featuring Dijvan Gasparyan, duduk virtuoso and Hossein Alizadeh, probably the world's leading exponent of the six stringed Persian tar. Both concerts are part of the fourth annual "Transcender" festival of world music.

The duduk is a traditional woodwind instrument indigenous to Armenia, but variations fit can be found in the Middle East and across Central Asia. I came across performances involving the duduk in both Armenia and Uzbekistan. The Gasparyan performance was wildly different to either of these (of course) with the real beauty of the duduk exposed to the audience - smooth, delicate notes as well as the shrill, exciting sounds I was familiar with from my travels. Also astonishing, is the way the ensemble is held together by one musician holding a single note throughout each piece, acting as a base and holding the performance together.

Then tar is a long necked instrument popular in Iran, Afghanistan and across the Caucasus. The word "tar" means string in Farsi (the language of Iran).

The concert was divided into two halves - the first featuring a lengthy improvisation session from Alizadeh accompanied only by a drummer followed by Gasparyan and three other duduk players, one of which was his grandson. The duduk quartet worked their way through some Armenian folk classics included one piece that I recognised as a Levon Malkhasyan composition.

Both performances were well received by the audience but the second half was magical. The duduk ensemble were joined on stage by Alizadeh, two other Iranian musicians (including a male vocalist) and  a stunning female vocalist. I speak neither Farsi nor Armenian so am embarrassed to admit that I don't know what language she sang in, but that woman's voice was big, clear and haunting. She sang seated which I always imagine to be difficult. The second, very long piece of the second set included some incredible ululating from this young woman. If anyone reading knows her name and if any recordings are available - then please let me know!

Dijvan Gasparyan also sang in the second set. The man is now 84 years of age. His voice is still extremely clear as was his delight in performing. The evening's hostess explained that Gasparyan first heard the duduk played when as a young boy he and his friends would sneak into the cinema in his home town of Yerevan to watch silent movies. Unlike in the UK where silent movies were accompanied by a pianist, in Yerevan, the films were interpreted through the music of the duduk!

These two maestros have worked together for some time. Gasparyan has travelled to Teheran to perform with his friend Alizadeh and the two of them recorded the critically acclaimed  "Endless Vision" album together in 2006. Both musicians are interested in the relationship between the music of the two cultures and of course, Armenians have been living in what is now known as Iran for more than 2,000 years.

A good concert and glad I went but I need to move into grumpy old man mode for a moment. The women next to me smelled appallingly of moth balls. The man to my right was "filming" the concert with his tedious i-phone despite being asked not to at the beginning of the concert and the woman sitting in front of me appeared to be unable to go for more than 30 seconds without chattering to her sleeping husband. I wish to thank them all for assisting in my enjoyment of the evening. Oh and one more thing. Dear Barbican, why do you close the rather nice design shop before the concert interval has finished? You have several hundred people in the building - what a great time to close the shop!

Rant over. Whilst we are on things Armenian, the rather wonderful Tigran Hamasyan has a concert in London in November as part of the London jazz festival. Note to self - buy tickets now!

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