Saturday, January 10, 2015

SULTANS AND DIVAS AT KOERNER HALL (FEATURING OCTOECHO AND SULTANS OF STRING)


Earlier on December the 4th, my friend and I took a warm musical trip to the Middle Eastern Kasbah being serenated by the music and performances of Arab Canadians and bands influenced by Middle Eastern music.    It was a night of soaring performances, groovy sounds, and new explorations into music that I would desire to hear more of in the years to come.

The night opened with artist Bassam Bishara playing an oud, which is a Middle Eastern guitar instrument that plays very exotic modal scales and tones reminiscent of that geographic location.     Following his opening oud solo, rising Arab soprano Miriam Khalil joins Bassam on a performance of a Middle Eastern folk song named “Aatini el Naya Wa Ghanni”.      Miriam’s voice and performance in her native Arabic tongue was one to experience, plus pairing it with the oud backing gives the music a truly classic authenticity to the cultural backdrop of Middle Eastern music.

In addition to the ethnically authentic performances that opened up the evening, sections of the evening were devoted to performing classic operatic arias performed with great execution by Miriam Khalil and Julie Nesrallah.  In the first set soprano Julie Nesrallah takes on Bizet’s “Habanera” with such authority and sass that it truly displays her command of the classic material.    The same goes for Miriam Khalil, who takes on Puccini’s “Quando M’en Vo” which was treated as a soaring love ballad filled with positivity and emotion.     The two sopranos would join forces in the second set to sing renditions of Leo Delibes “Flower Duet” and Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, which literally took me to the heavens and back with their wondrous voices singing in complete unison.

IN the first act, a group from Montreal known as Oktoecho closed the set with a program of original music written by conductor Katia Makdissi-Warren.    Their set incorporated Middle Eastern music, western classical, and even jazz influences into a sound that is unique and completely exotic on its own.    In their performance they employed strings, piano, oud, drums, percussion and even belly dancing to create an experience that took me virtually into a Middle Eastern marketplace filled with action, intrigue, and adventure.    The music even sounded like a movie soundtrack with all the instruments coming together to produce a full orchestral sound.

The other main group, the Juno-nominated Sultans of String led by Lebanese Canadian violinist Chris McKhool, brought elements of flamenco, world fusion, folk and jazz into an exciting program that electrified the second act of the evening.    Their opening number “Alhambra” blended their trademark sounds of flamenco and Middle Eastern flair with touches of funk for good measure.    By the second number, “El-Kahira”, the band literally got me up on my feet and made me move to the music along with a guest belly dancer that provided exotic dance moves to keep the audience enthralled and enchanted by the music.    Another highlight is their ballad treatment “Josie” and closing number “Auyuittuq Sunrise” that paid homage to the great white North and the native peoples that inhabit the area.    Throughout their set, the performances were fresh and funky, and their music represented a unity of cultures and traditions that brings a universal connection for those sharing in the process.

The closing number brought all of the performers to perform a Middle-Eastern piece called “Bint el Shalabiya”, which was a rousing performance that brought a celebratory tone to the evening.     The last number would make you want to belly dance and party in the Middle Eastern market square with all that music in the air.    Overall, it was a great night of paying homage and celebration to the great cultural landscape of the Middle East through dance, singing and music pulled off by top-notch musicians at the peak of their powers.   

SULTANS OF STRING OFFICIAL SITE:

OCTOECHO OFFICIAL SITE:

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