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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 27, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 17
Minority report
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Minority report

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Boston Camerata at EMG
April 21
Town Hall


The packed audience gave the performers mostly a standing ovation at the end, while I sat fuming over being made to sit without intermission for an hour and 40 minutes to extremely repetitive music in incomprehensible languages we were not able to follow, even with use of the printed program. Before I describe what was good about this performance, let me list the mistakes that made it so unpleasant for this listener and my friends.

First of all, in a program of mostly sung music in foreign languages, there were no supratitles or printed translations that could be followed. In operas before the day of supratitles, one could follow in a printed libretto, or just enjoy the beauty of constantly changing melodies and hopefully some great voices. Here, the music was of only two kinds: the western mode that seemed all in the same key and sung with the same vocal patterns, with no beautiful melody to speak of; and the eastern, Turkish, mode which at least employed fascinating vocal techniques and sounds, utterly different form western singing in both vocal production and melody. With the western music, one could almost always predict the next notes to be sung, so rigidly did they follow the same pattern. Boring! Even the several spoken narratives were read in the original languages, with little chance of our understanding.

Next, the woman who addressed the audience in English several times could not be understood for two reasons: she (and Gus Denhard, executive director of the Early Music Guild) did not use a microphone, and during her speech, other players were tuning their instruments very loudly. Thus, we missed any chance to hear about the music we were about to experience. Indeed, I seldom felt the performers really connected with me, partly because they mostly kept their eyes glued to the printed music while playing and singing. (Compare to most concert artists who play with no printed music at all, or at best glance at it from time to time, often preferring to have eye contact with the audience.) In fact, they did not seem to be having a very good time. I much prefer artists who obviously enjoy sharing their love of their music with us.

Actually, this concert, titled 'Alexander the Great: Hero, Warrior, Lover,' was a joint effort by The Boston Camerata and Dünya, an educational group in Boston, dedicated to presenting Turkish traditions, including many varieties of Turkish music. Boston Camerata has performed at Early Music Guild concerts before and usually could be counted on for highly entertaining performances. It was a shock that they so missed the mark this time.

The highlights of the evening were the excellent voices and the great variety of instruments. Anne Azéma, artistic director of The Boston Camerata, had an ample, full-bodied soprano that delivered each sung narrative with feeling and excellent technique. The chief vocal excitement, however, came from the specialized Turkish singing of Mehmet Sanlikol. His eastern vocal technique was a fascinating study in nasal and throaty sounds, with elaborate melismas full of intricate ornamentations, quarter-tones, and startling effects. It was a technique that sounded as though he were tearing his throat apart, but it was clearly a perfected art that allowed the singer to go on without damage. His range was from a warm baritone all the way to extremely high, pinched-sounding, notes. I wish we could have known what he was saying! (It was difficult to know where in the narrative we were in the printed notes.)

The instruments were vielle, harp, several wind instruments, ceng, percussion, psaltery, bagpipe, hurdy-gurdy, ud, ney, and saz. Clearly, the use of unfamiliar instruments provided some interest, and the two groups varied them throughout the program. I wish this program had been better suited to communicate effectively with the audience. It was a long narrative about the life of Alexander the Great, all of which would have been clear and, perhaps, exciting if there had been supratitles to follow.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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