Kayhan Kalhor and the Persian kamancheh at Tully Scope

Kayhan Kalhor playing the Persian kamancheh

Yeah, I know–technically it’s Brooklyn Rider and Kayhan Kalhor at Tully Scope, but even the Lincoln Center website lists Kayhan Kalhor first.  But after a slightly negative review of Brooklyn Rider at the Washington Post, maybe it’s better this way as Evan Tucker only had great things to say about Kalhor:

Brooklyn Rider also performed four pieces that its violinist Colin Jacobsen wrote or arranged to include the legendary Iranian musician Kayhan Kalhor. After mere seconds from Kalhor’s kamancheh – an Iranian viol- one realized what Brooklyn Rider lacks. The moment Kalhor’s bow crossed the strings, the synagogue was transformed from a trendy venue into a musical shrine. Whenever Kalhor was spotlighted, Jacobsen’s music changed from ethno-kitsch to profound rumination.

Midway through the concert, Kalhor gave as extraordinary an improvisation as any music lover could wish to hear. All it took was one instrument, one man, and one melody extracted from one chord to uncover thousands of possibilities constructed from simple means.

A musician this brilliant should not have to play second fiddle – or, in this case, second kamancheh. Asking Kayhan Kalhor to play with Brooklyn Rider is like asking W.C. Handy to play with Blues Traveler. Both Brooklyn Rider and Blues Traveler are enjoyable groups that popularize great musical traditions. One immediately hears how distant their music is from greatness, however, when confronted with the real thing.

Continue reading “Kayhan Kalhor and the Persian kamancheh at Tully Scope”

Origins of Bowed Stringed Instruments

Sambuugiin Pürevjav of Altai Khairkhan playing a morin khuur near Centre Georges Pompidou in 2005.

The Wikipedia entry for the Byzantine lyra states this about its history:

The first recorded reference to the bowed lyra was in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911); in his lexicographical discussion of instruments he cited the lyra (lūrā) as the typical instrument of the Byzantines along with the urghun (organ), shilyani (probably a type of harp or lyre) and the salandj (probably a bagpipe)[5]. The lyra spread widely via the Byzantine trade routes that linked the three continents; in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments[6]. In the meantime, the rabāb, the bowed string instrument of the Arabic world, was introduced to Western Europe possibly through the Iberian Peninsula and both instruments spread widely throughout Europe giving birth to various European bowed instruments such as the medieval rebec, the Scandinavian and Icelandic talharpa, and the Celticcrwth. A notable example is the Italian lira da braccio[6], a 15th-century bowedstring instrument which is considered by many as the predecessor of the contemporary violin[2][7].

While it’s never a good idea to take Wikipedia as the final say about any topic, it’s usually a great starting point for research.  Being adequately sourced helps, obviously.   The entry for the Chinese erhu states that:

The erhu can be traced back to instruments introduced into China more than a thousand years ago. It is believed to have evolved from the xiqin (), which was described as a foreign, two-stringed lute in Yue Shu (樂書, yuèshū, lit. book of music), an encyclopedic work on music written by music theorist Chen Yang in the Northern Song Dynasty. The xiqin is believed to have originated from the Xi people of Central Asia, and have come to China in the 10th century.

Bowed strings seemed to have originated as a whole in the Middle East and/or Central Asia–regions of the world that share a lot of overlapping cultural ties–and then spread West and East into Europe and Asia.

Meaning that there are bowed string traditions in the world that predate the Western traditions by a few centuries.  The irony being that after the Cairo Congress in 1932 (as well as the subsequent follow ups) the formal re-introduction of Western bowed strings have resulted in the replacement of many of the native instruments with European violins, violas, cellos and basses. Continue reading “Origins of Bowed Stringed Instruments”