Wednesday , May 22 2024
Jordi Savall (second from left) and members of Orient Lux (photo credit: Philippe Matsas)
Jordi Savall (second from left) and members of Orient Lux (photo credit: Philippe Matsas)

Music Review: Orpheus 21 – ‘Oriente Lux (Dialogue of Souls)’ with Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI

Orient Lux captures a live concert by musicians from Syria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Morocco and Turkey, working with early music master Jordi Savall, musicians from Savall’s ensemble Hespèrion XXI, and Syrian musicians Waed Bouhassoun and Moslem Rahal. It’s a program of traditional music on the theme of “paths of exile and hope” and part of Orpheus 21, a collaborative project that began in the second half of the 2010s to support professional musicians from the Middle and Near East who were refugees and immigrants in Europe.

The program captured at this 2019 concert in Paris, say the liner notes, was “intended as a homage to the victims of the war in Syria which, at the time of writing, is entering its twelfth year, with a terrible toll of human suffering and more than 570,000 dead.”

The tracks feature songs and chants and instrumentals with a variety of instruments from various traditions: string instruments like the oud (lute), kamanjah (gourd fiddle), and Moroccan lotar, to name just a few, along with zithers, wind instruments like the Armenian duduk, and percussion – even tablas make an appearance. Savall writes that the project’s aim was to give “a voice to this diversity of age-old musical legacies which are preserved in the memory of all these extraordinary musicians.”

The music cramming these two CDs derives from countries far and wide, from Syria to Afghanistan, Israel to Greece, Morocco to Iraq. The moods and rhythms range from somber to celebratory, hypnotic to aggressive. The set includes a plethora of impassioned and expert performances: two Kurdish chants sung, shouted and ululated by Ruşan Filiztek, one of them accompanied only by percussion; traditional chants featuring the remarkable vocalist Rebal Alkhodari; a chant from Aleppo led by Meriem Moubine and backed, like some of the other tracks, by “tous les musiciens” – and many more, a true world-music community, gathered for one night in one room.

Rebal Alkhodary (photo credit: Hervé Pouyfourcat)
Rebal Alkhodary (photo credit: Hervé Pouyfourcat)

An especially beautiful moment on Disc 2 comes with “Ya Mariam el bekr – chant à la Vierge de Syrie” sung in an intently understated style by Syrian singer and oud player Waed Bouhassoun, a founding instructor-performer of Orpheus 21. Americans tend to associate Middle Eastern and “Arab” countries with Islam, but religious feeling of any persuasion can blossom in the culture, and the music, of any land.

Crossing borders with Orpheus 21 and ‘Orient Lux’

A selection from Michael Praetorius’s Terpsichore – a compendium published in 1612 of instrumental dances from France and elsewhere in Europe – might seem out of place here, but sounds surprisingly at home. It’s worth remembering how much musical cross-pollination took place between Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the centuries. The word for “lute,” for example – an instrument familiar to listeners of early music from Europe – derives from “l’oud,” French for “the oud,” an instrument from medieval Islamic tradition. Another example: The melody of a track titled “As for tall – chant du Liban” by Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife is very reminiscent of a Hebrew song I know. You may find linkages and references and resonances of your own.

One track near the end of Disc 2 distills the spirit of this world-music project in six and a half minutes. Traditional chants and sounds from Greece, Turkey, Bangladesh and Morocco link up as a single “song” with soloists joined by the entire ensemble.

It’s often said that music can bridge cultural and national divides. Here is a manifestation of that capability in as close to literal form as you’re likely to find.

Orient Lux is out August 18 on Alia Vox.


About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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