I’m going to hold off on writing about the Crash Ensemble gig on Friday last for a few days as I forgot to pick up a programme at the performance in Samuel Beckett. I’d rather not go into it without the programme as I can’t remember exactly the works and order of those works. So, more on that later…
I did, however, pick up a programme for the Sunday evening performance of Persian and Sephardic music in Samuel Beckett. The performance was organised by the Herzog Centre and the School of Religions and Theology in Trinity College Dublin, in particular Dr Roja Fazaeli, Lecturer in Islamic Studies and Dr Zuleika Rodgers, Lecturer in Jewish Studies. It included performers from Ireland, England, the Netherlands, Iran, Russia and Italy. The music poses a challenge to me as it’s not often we have an opportunity to listen to live performances of music from Jewish and Islamic cultures and it was a complete learning experience. (Reading around Persian and Sephardic cultures following the performance was an even steeper learning curve!)
It may seem ridiculous to be making fashion comments in a music review but a special mention has to be made of soprano Judith Mok! The rest of the band appeared in all black and the six of them were perfectly balanced, three to the left and three to the right of Mok’s, what can only be described as magnificent, appearance. I know I’m prone to over-use of adjectives at times but I don’t think there are enough adjectives in the English language to describe the scarlet and cream, gold-waisted, silver-tasselled dress in which Mok stood in her straight-backed Jewish princess style! And that was before she started to sing.
Mok was on flying form on Sunday, as were all the musicians, demonstrating extraordinary control over her voice. They opened with three Sephardic songs, one of which, the lullaby Nani, I last heard Mok perform from a bathtub (fully-clothed mind) in Nick Roth’s house at a pre-Christmas party (believe it , I have the photos to prove it). Bathtub or no, the two lullabies Nana and Nani were beautiful, the strings and Roth’s Saxophone were mewling and keening under Mok’s gentle melody. The instruments alternated with Mok on the melody and occasionally one or other wandered off on a solo which was informal, improvised and perfect for a lullaby. Francesco Turrisi skipped between keyboard and percussion and Simon Jermyn provided a solid bass line, occasionally taking the reins in jazz-style solos that worked well with the Jewish melancholy.
The group performed twelve works, Mok or Roth explaining the works before they were performed. There is quite a legacy to some of the pieces – Adio Querida is a Spanish Sephardic song lamenting the Jewish goodbye to Spain as they left during the Spanish inquisition. Roth also introduced all the performers individually and had a palaver of a story around the Santur player Javi Afsari Rad; apparently the group were to perform with another Santur player who, through circumstances out of their control, had to cancel last minute. After tracing him through a variety of countries they finally found Javid in Norway and invited him to perform with them. This was three days before the performance on Sunday evening. Javid accepted the invitation and left Oslo to drive the two and a half hours to the Ryanair airport on Saturday evening only to find the flight cancelled! Back to Oslo and book an early flight Sunday, arrive in Dublin Sunday, rehearse and perform Sunday evening! Phew! His performance was wonderful and there was no indication of the extreme exhaustion he was surely suffering!
One of the real pleasures of the evening for me personally was hearing Cora Venus Lunny bring the viola into a space that was entirely its own. Whether plucking quietly at the strings, complementing Mok’s melody with an extra voice or during an improvised solo, Lunny displayed a mastery over an area of performance I have not heard her engage with previously. Lunny is soon to release a solo album so watch this space for more information.