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September 11, 2008

Ways of the Kurds

Kayhan3
Kayhan Kalhor (front) and Brooklyn Rider on a bridge--the Brooklyn one.
Photo: World Village Music

by John Oseid

In a Condé Nast Traveler Forum interview last year, my colleague Dorinda Elliott spoke with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma about his Silk Road Project. Over the last decade the dynamic initiative has promoted music, culture, and education, while dozens of world-class artists have worked with Ma in a revolving ensemble. I loved the collaboration album Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon.

Now I'm looking forward to hearing one of the project's alumni, Kurdish kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, who brings his stunning string playing to Carnegie Hall on October 18. (Yeah, we didn't have a kamancheh section in junior high band, either.) The Persian spiked fiddle, as it's commonly known, is a four-stringed bowed lute. And in the hands of Tehran-born Kalhor, it produces moods ranging from triste to triumphant.

The album Silent City, a collaboration between Kalhor and the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, was released several days ago. In the first few minutes of the composition "Ascending Bird," you think you're listening to a European chamber orchestra; then suddenly the piece sweeps--in my mind, at least--into a stirring evocation of the steppes of Central Asia.

The 29-minute piece "Silent City" is a slow and largely improvised testament to the victims of Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical weapons atrocities in Kurdish Hallabja. It takes the listener from disaster to resurrection. "Beloved, do not let me be discouraged" is a moving medieval courtly love song composed by Colin Jacobsen of Brooklyn Rider. The New York Times recently told the story behind the Brooklyn group's unusual collaboration with a Middle Eastern virtuoso.

On its Web site, Kalhor's label World Village has a video of his live performance of "Silent City" with the Brooklyn-based quartet.

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