Istanbul (released on Jan. 10th) is the latest from Spanish gamba player/conductor/early music scholar Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hesperion XXI. These are the same groundbreaking musicians who have led us into a lot of under-explored territory including music from the time of Columbus and Queen Isabella, the Sephardic diaspora, the famous “Libre Vermell” of Montserrat, Jerusalem, and “minstrels of the golden age”.
Hesperion XXI’s discography is eclectic, but not unpurposeful. While each recording is a complete, self-contained journey in itself, the collection adds up to an imaginative and methodical musical tour through the many decades, cultures, styles, and geographical regions.
There is a certain amount of trust that develops between musicians and their audiences. Here’s how that plays out in reality: when Jordi Savall has a new recording coming out, it doesn’t really matter what it is. I know I’ll want it, and I know I’ll love it when I get it.
Istanbul has had me dancing for a couple of weeks now. I think that’s going to last for quite a while to come. The music all comes from The Book of Science and Music, an album of Turkish music collected by Dimitrie Cantemir. Never heard of him before I got the CD. Wikipedia says he was a Moldavian prince. Also an ethnographer, historian, philosopher, musician, linguist. (Here’s the entry if you’re intrigued.)
I do find it interesting that Cantemir’s creds are so aligned with those of Jordi Savall himself. If not literally, then certainly in their results. This cross-century, cross-continental collaboration offer proof again that there there are no creative limits to the curious mind. The music is more or less familiar (Western classical) in its form, and yet exotic in its harmonies and rhythms. The vocals are passionate and exciting, venturing into the more melismatic stylings typical of middle Eastern cultures. This is rich music, every bit springing from the fertile cultural crossroads of its namesake city.
I recently played a selection of tunes from Istanbul on my show and asked listeners, what do you think of it? Does it fit in with a classical format? Should we be playing more music like this? The responses included, “I wanted to belly dance!” to “of course it fits with a classical format” and “please play more!“.
Istanbul is a fascinating historical documentation of the Ottoman, Armenian and Sephardic music in the Turkish city in the early 1700s.
On the non-academic, emotional and human level it’s also a purely joyous listening experience.