It is not every day that I watch a concert of live Middle Eastern music and become completely impressed and immersed into the entire performance. That is not to mean that I haven’t been impressed by Middle Eastern musical artistry, but it has been sometime since I heard a group of artists perform together with such flawless talents that captivated my attention for the entire performance.
On Sunday, February 20th, Tufts University presented a recital featuring Armenian musical virtuoso, Mal Barsamian on oud (Middle Eastern lute). He was joined by Layth Sidiq, violin and Naseem Alatrash, cello in a performance of 20th century music by Arabic, Egyptian, Lebanese, Iraqi, and Armenian composers. In a word – fabulous.
The hour and a half long recital consisted of an array of classical and folk related material chosen by Mal who led the trio. All three musicians have an affiliation with the Tufts musical program but this was the first time this trio has performed together. Remarkably, they had only one day of rehearsal, the day before this concert. You would have never known it. Flawless as they moved through a myriad of scales and rhythms.
All of the songs were carefully chosen in order to highlight the string instrumentation such as the intro song Samai Lami by Iraqi oudist/composer Ghanem Haddad. This song set the warm tone for the rest of the concert.
A major influencer of Arabic music was Egyptian oudist/composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab who composed many popular tunes to a point where it would be uncommon not to hear one of his compositions in a Middle Eastern musical concert. The trio performed two songs by Wahab: Ibn El Balad and Leilet Hob, both songs were considered popular tunes for belly dancers.
The trio included another favorite song that Mal recorded on his solo album a few years by Tunisian composer Anouar Brahem called Itr El Ghajar.
It was a natural assumption that Mal would bring Armenian composers and songs to center stage of this recital including many Armenian composers ranging from Tatul Altunyan (Yarimo), Kemani Tatyos Ekserciyan (Rast Semai) Vagharshak Kotoyan ( Sevani Tsgnorsneru Bar), Boghos Kirechjian ( Vart Kaghelen Goukas Var & Yaylouges Gorav) to contemporary oudist/composer Ara Dinkjian (Invisible Lover). I cant say that I have a favorite as all of these songs were performed with perfection but extra kudos goes to the trio performing Yarimo which can be a complex song that changes rhythms with every measure.
Mal Barsamian represents the third generation of oud (lute) players in his family. Having obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical guitar performance under Robert Paul Sullivan at the New England Conservatory of Music, he went on to become a sought-after player of the oud and dumbeg (hand drum). He has played within Armenian, Greek, and Middle Eastern musical communities throughout the country for over thirty years, and also performs on guitar, clarinet and saxophone. He teaches private and ensemble sessions at Tufts University.
Layth Sidiq is a Jordanian-Iraqi award-winning violinist, composer and educator and the current artistic director of the New York Arabic Orchestra. He has toured the world and shared the stage with major artists such as Simon Shaheen, Danilo Perez, Javier Limon and Jack Dejohnette, as well as performing in prestigious venues like the London Jazz Festival, Boston Symphony Hall, WOMEX Expo, and Panama Jazz Festival.
Naseem Alatrash is a Palestinian cellist and composer. He has appeared at numerous international festivals, including the Newport Jazz Festival, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, and many more. Alatrash has received international acclaim from media around the world, for his musical arrangement/producing a cover of the Beatles song “Drive My Car.” As a collaboration with Public Radio International’s radio show The World and the Berklee College of Music, he arranged/adapted the Beatles song with an Arabic twist.