A concert in Palmyra. Music from Asia
Palmyra in Syria is a place where the cross-cultural and cross-religious influences can be felt until today. In the middle of a deeply Islamic country there are several flourishing Christian Churches as well as an ancient Jewish community. Thus the amphitheatre of Palmyra is the choice of the location for Voices From The Stars Above The Desert.
This special concert brings together outstanding artists of Asia. All musicians take religion as the origin for their own creativity and add their distinctive flavour to this unique concert in the desert of Syria. The estimated artists are:
Anoushka Shankar & ensemble, India
Kodō, percussion ensemble, Japan
Gamelan orchestra from Bali, Indonesia
Arabian music ensemble and Dervish dance, Syria
Overtonal singing ensemble from Tuva, Siberia (Russia)
Tibetan Buddhist monks from Gyuto Tantric monastery, Tibet / India
Givan Gasparyan & ensemble, Armenia
Estimated time: Postponed or cancelled because of unstable situation in the Middle-East
Mrs Asmaa Al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria
Dr Ingrid Rüütel, ethno-musicologist, the First Lady of Estonia (2001–2006)
Pt Ravi Shankar
The concert follows the belief that music and dance is the most widely and commonly understood language in the world through which we can all together achieve a more peaceful and friendly world.
Strange as it might seem at the first glance, namely several roads have played a major part in developing cultures and economies in history. Most of us are well aware of the importance of the great Silk Road which started in the Far East and ended up in Constantinople or Alexandria. However, probably less people are aware of other similar trade routes that were called the Lapis Lazuli Road and the Incense Road et al. No matter what, those roads have played key role in human development and they have several common denominators: they have all in the area that can be called Orient, most of them ended in the present-day Middle East and they all contributed to the peaceful spreading of different religions as well as mixing the cultures. The most influential melting pots of those cultural and religious ties were often the important stopover and trading points on those roads, one of them being Palmyra in Syria. The cross-cultural or cross-religious influences can be felt until today in the whole area.
VOICES FROM THE STARS ABOVE THE DESERT aims on the one hand to offer the audience music from different countries of the Orient performed by the best artists of Asia. On the other hand, the organisers hope to draw attention to the reasons of the instable situation in several areas of Asia and if not more than just a little to refute the widely spread fallacy in the West that terrorism is common to all the Middle East. Though the afore-mentioned might give an impression of a political undertone in the concert, the program is still composed strictly from the point of view of music without in the least being influenced by political, ethnic or any similar factors. 25% of the ticket sales revenue from the concert will be donated to the victims of global violence.
Anoushka Shankar (sitār), the daughter of legendary sitarist Pt Ravi Shankar, has shown herself to be a unique artist with tremendous talent and understanding of the great musical tradition of India. She plays piano, debuted at the age of nineteen in New Delhishe as a conductor and won several Grammy Awards. After a year’s sabbatical in 2004, Anoushka has returned to the concert stage alone and with her father, but has also grown as a conductor.
In recognition of her artistry and musicianship, the British Parliament presented Anoushka with a House of Commons Shield in 1998. She is the youngest as well as the first female recipient of this high honor. Anoushka became the first woman to perform at The Ramakrishna Centre in Calcutta in February 2000. The Indian Television Academy, Asmi and India Times chose her as one of four Women of the Year in India in 2003. In 2004 Anoushka was chosen as one of 20 Asian Heroes by the Asia edition of TIME magazine. Nominee of Grammy Award.
Download photo: Anoushka Shankar (300 dpi, 922 KB)
Kodō, percussion ensemble, Japan
Exploring the limitless possibilities of the traditional Japanese drum, the taiko, Kodō are forging new directions for a vibrant living art-form. In Japanese the word ‘Kodō’ conveys two meanings: Firstly, ‘heartbeat’ the primal source of all rhythm. The sound of the great taiko is said to resemble a mother’s heartbeat as felt in the womb, and it is no myth that babies are often lulled asleep by its thunderous vibrations. Secondly, read in a different way, the word can mean ‘children of the drum’, a reflection of Kodō’s desire to play their drums simply, with the heart of a child. Since their debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981, Kodō have given over 2800 performances on all five continents, spending about a third of the year overseas, a third touring in Japan and a third resting and preparing new material on Sado Island.
Kodō strives to both preserve and re-interpret traditional Japanese performing arts. Beyond this, members on tours all over the globe have brought back to Sado a kaleidoscope of world music and experiences which now exerts a strong influence on the group’s performances and compositions. Collaborations with other artists and conductors extend right across the musical spectrum and Kodō’s lack of preconceptions about its music continues to produce startling new fusion and forms.
Shake, fragm, 47 sec, mp3
Gamelan orchestra from Bali, Indonesia
Gamelan now formally means ‘an Indonesian orchestra’, but it generally refers to the traditional form of Indonesian music involving an orchestra comprising various percussion instruments. The percussion instruments are wood, iron, bronze, or bamboo bars, bronze or iron gongs, cymbals, drums, and bells. In addition, flutes and even human voices are used in certain types of gamelan music, depending on the geographical variant or the venue of the music. The word ‘gamelan’ is derived from a word meaning to play. Gamelan music is evidenced to be at least 1200 years old. The gamelan was regarded highly spiritually as well as purely musically. Each instrument was believed to have a spirit that must be respected. For example, shoes must be taken off when playing an instrument in gamelan.
Sheikh Hamza Shakkūr & whirling dervishes of the Great Ummayad Mosque, Damascus
The Whirling Dervish order was founded by the mystical Sufi poet Jelalauddin Rumi in the 13th cent in both Syria and Turkey. Their dance is said to have derived from his spontaneous poetic outpourings, which would occur while he spun around the pillars of mosques. The turning is also described as a kinesthetic representation of the greater cosmic whirling of the universe. The participants continuously spin to the left, hands raised in prayerful gesture, often with the right elevated towards heaven and the left curved towards the earth. The trance state that is reached through the spinning is a type of meditation that is said to create a direct and complete union with the divine.
As simple as the movement is, there is so much to look at: the stark-white skirts and how they each create a slightly different shape as they turn, the way each dancer uses a slightly different method to get their feet around, the subtle shape-shifting of the arms and hands, and the individuality of each dancer.
Yā āliman bi s-sirr, fragm, 120 sec, mp3
Huun-Huur-Tu, overtonal singing ensemble from Tuva, Siberia: Kaigal-Ool Khovalyg, Sayan Bapa, Alexey Saryglar, Radik Tyulyush
It has been compared to using the voice like a human bagpipe – producing a low fundamental note, like a drone, while adding a higher series of harmonics to create the melody. Most people haven’t heard anything like this. Even hearing this on CD is nothing like witnessing this live, seeing a group of seated men in ‘native garb’ give forth with amazing sounds that dart and cut through the air, filling a whole concert hall with the sound of their voices.
The Ancestors of theirs were nomadic herders and lived so close to the land, they began to mimic the sounds of nature in their song – birds, water, animals. Each style of Tuvan throat singing imitates a different animal or sound. As throat singing produces a musical sound that carries over long distances, the music became a way for shepherds, yak herders and horsemen to entertain each other and communicate across vast areas of steppes and taiga.
Huun-Huur-Tu, Ancestors / Prayer, live, fragm, 102 sec, mp3
Tibetan Buddhist monks from Gyuto Tantric monastery
The Tibetan Buddhist monks from Gyuto Tantric University accent the otherworldly, multiphonic chanting of their prayers with cymbals, horns, drums, and bells to create a beautiful, transcendent sound.
To preserve the most advanced and esoteric teachings, the Gyuto Tantric University was founded in 1474 by Gyuchen Kunga Dondrub, a principal disciple of His Holiness the 1st Dalai-lama. The practice in the monastery was based on the contemplation and the rituals of Guhyasamāja tantra. The original crew of 32 monks lived and breathed the universe of this tantra and its mandala of bliss-void-invisible. In particular, a style of overtonal guttural chanting was developed, in which each monk sings a chord containing 2 or 3 tones simultaneously. The men’s voices are pitched so low (A of contraoctave) that one wonders if this can really be human beings singing. This remarkable, transcendental sound is thought to arise only from the throat of a person who has realised selfless wisdom. This kind of music emanates from samādhi (a trance-like state of pure consciousness) and is capable of communicating that samādhi to the audience.
In addition to their monastic activity Gyuto monks have won renown as musicians working together with names like Philip Glass, Kitaro, etc. Discography: “Freedom Chants From The Roof Of The World”, “Voice Of The Tantra”, “Sacred Chants Of Tibet”, “The Perfect Jewel”, “Music Of Tibet”, “Chant Retrospective 2000”, “Gyuto Tantric Choir”, “Tibetan Tantric Choir”.
Mahākāla is the most important protector-deity of Tantric Buddhism, the wrathful form of compassion-bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. During the ceremony, the monks invite Mahākāla to manifest himself before them, they make mental offerings, prayse him, and commission him to safeguard all beings.
In the Yamāntaka ritual, the monks identify themselves with the divine “Terminator of death”. During the visualization, they enter his sacred mandala-palace, where they become channels for Yamāntaka’s stream od life-giving blessings to all beings. Although Yamāntaka manifests a wrathful, triumphal appearance, his essence is actually the gentle Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom. This recitation is believed to have the power to exorcise the human afflictions of anger, avarice, lust, and envy, and transform them into creative wisdom.
Mahakala ceremony, fragm, 114 sec, mp3PRO
Djivan Gasparyan & ensemble, Armenia
Djivan Gasparyan was born in 1928 in Solag, a village near the Armenian capital Yerevan. He began to play the duduk at age 6, gaining much of his knowledge by listening to the great masters. In 1948 he joined the Tatoo’Altounian National Song and Dance Ensemble, and also had his first professional engagement as soloist with the Yerevan Philharmonic Orchestra.
Most of Gasparyan’s repertoire features traditional Armenian folk songs. He also is an accomplished conductor and a singer in the folk tradition. In addition to his original compositions and arrangements of traditional songs, he has written love songs based on the poetry of Vahan Derian.
Gasparyan won Gold Medals in four worldwide competitions organized by UNESCO (1959, 1962, 1973, and 1980) and is the only musician ever to be given the honorary title of People’s Artist of Armenia, received in 1973 from the Armenian government.
A professor at the Yerevan Conservatory, Gasparyan has prepared more than 70 duduk musicians for professional performance. He greatly enjoys teaching, and it brings him joy to know that through his efforts the tradition of duduk playing will not be lost.
His contribution to the soundtrack of Gladiator is only the latest of his continuing collaborations with the film industry both in Hollywood and in Europe: The Russia House, The Siege and The Crowand Atom Egoyan’s film Calendar, as well as for the American-Hungarian cable television co-production Storm and Sorrow.
Palmyra (Παλμυρα, also Tadmur) is an ancient city in Syria with the history dating back to the times of the Lapis Lazuli Road and the Silk Road. It is one of the most symbolic places to show the integration of different nations, their cultures and knowledge. One can hardly pick a better place for demonstrating the goodwill between East and West with longtime connections of peaceful trade. History can literally be felt in the stones of Palmyra.
The amphitheatre of Palmyra has been very well preserved thanks to the dry desert climate. It has never hosted an international cultural event of the scale planned in the current project. However, the infrastructure is quite prepared for it.
As a historically significant sight, Palmyra has several hotels of good international standard. The International Airport of Palmyra opened in 2005. Distance from Damascus − 263 kms.
History: Called Tadmor or Tadmur by the Arabs, Palmyra appeared for the first time in the 2nd Millennium BC in the archives of Mari and in an Assyrian text. It was also mentioned in the Bible as a part of Solomon’s territory. When it became independent, it flourished through trade with Persia, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian peninsula. In 41 BC it had become rich enough to attract the Romans under Mark Anthony attempted to occupy it but failed because of the Palmyreans escaping to the other side of the Euphrates. Later on the Romans succeeded with occupying and Palmyra was forced to become a military area and let go of its reputation as a trade center. Later, in the Byzantine period a few churches were built and added to the much ruined city. It was then taken by the Arabs who built numerous mosques and fortification. Since then it has had no major roles and the ruins have fallen victim to natural erosion.
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