It's amazing to look back at the Golden Age of Spain (9th to 15th century) with modern eyes. In this era, the idea of multiculturalism has become loaded with political import (both good and bad), making it tough to accept the idea of so many diverse cultures working together as anything more than an aberration.
On Provenance, cellist Maya Beiser's goal was to work with the spirit of that age, bringing it into the 21st century. It seems like such an enormous task, the most obvious reason is the history of the area in the intervening years, with hate and war driving the cultural sub-elements apart. But with compositions emanating from Israel, Armenia, Iran, Turkey, Andalusia, and Morocco by way of England, Beieser shows us that music can have power over ignorance.
"I Was There" opens the program in fine fashion. Kayhan Kalhor, a Kurd from Northern Iran, composed the song using a melody from the legendary Persian Kurdish musician/poet/singer Ziryab. The song sets the tone for the album as Beiser spends ten minutes weaving in and around a pedal tone before Bassam Saba joins in on the oud. The pair remains in this slowly evolving and mystical environment for a few more minutes until two percussionists materialize, pushing the tempo and energy level up several notches. The multiple textures and shifting rhythms seem to reveal more and more detail on repeated listens.
Beiser then settles back into "Memories," a piece for solo cello written by Armenian composer Djivan Gasparian. It is truly and entrancing selection of music, with Beiser's cello playing out the melody over a constant drone.
What's so inspiring about Provenance (the simple beauty of the music aside) is seeing and hearing the results of threads (intentional and accidental) that can run through cultures. The gorgeous and intense suite "Mar De Leche," written by Israeli composer Tamar Muskal, draws on themes originating with the Sephardic Jews of Spain and the related language of Ladino. The haunting "Only Breath," another piece for interwoven cello, has roots in both Andalusia and Turkey. Composer Douglas J. Cuomo states that he was inspired by "the stillness and sounds of the countryside of Andalusia." Also at play was his experience in a village in Turkey, where he heard the Sufi call to prayer coming simultaneously from several different minarets. The title comes from the Rumi poem of the same name. Cuomo ties that in beautifully by saying that the composition evokes those two experiences while seeming to be "not composed of elements at all," as is related by Rumi's text.