Music Between Cultures

    The Sarband Ensemble
    A Bridge Between Orient and Occident

    The Sarband Ensemble unites musical traditions from Orient and Occident, past and contemporary, and mediates between medieval music and traditions that are still alive today.

    Sarband unites musical traditions from Orient and Occident, past and contemporary, and mediates between medieval music and traditions that are still alive today. The ensemble is formed from the ongoing collaboration of many different singers and musicians.

    Its originality stems from the respectful intercultural dialogue that takes place among the musicians, as well as from the versatility of its international composition. Early instruments, original playing methods, and a variety of singing techniques and improvisational practices such as still flourish in the Mediterranean region today all complement each other to create music that is both exciting and authentic. Depending on the project, they might also collaborate with other musicians, ensembles and orchestras. Founded in 1986, Sarband has been led since its beginnings by the Bulgarian-born musician and musicologist Vladimir Ivanoff. Ivanoff is primarily interested in the relationship between the musical cultures of medieval Europe and the Orient. For him and for all his colleagues it is important to depict the possibility of the peaceful coexistence of people from different cultures, and to present this as a sensory experience.

    Vladimir Ivanoff studied musicology in Munich, and Renaissance lute and historical performance practice at the Karlsruhe Conservatory of Music and at the Scola Cantorum in Basel. He then studied the oud (Arab lute) and drums with various traditional musicians, and went on to teach musicology at Munich University.

    The name of the ensemble, ‘Sarband’, is an expression of the aims of the group. ‘Sarband’ is a Persian word, versions of which are found in almost every Oriental language, as for example in Turkish and Arabic, signifying ‘a connecting element’. In music theory it designates an improvised passage played between two movements of a suite.

    On their first album, Cantico, released in 1990, Sarband began their musical journey between cultures by juxtaposing the music of the Italian Laudesi fraternities and that of the Islamic Sufi order. Cantico consisted of the music of Turkish Sufis from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and music from the circle around St. Francis of Assisi, who twice visited the Middle East and was strongly influenced by the Sufi ideology.

    Their next work, released that same year, was a CD entitled Music of the Emperors. In comparing the musical traditions of Orient and Occident, Sarband aimed to demonstrate not only their musical similarities but also their fundamental differences, as he two cultures had both exchanged ideas and mutually enriched one another.

    ‘This is courtly music, explains Ivanoff, on the one hand from the court of the famous Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II in Palermo, and on the other from the court of Timur in Samarkand: two rulers who aspired to rule the world, and who therefore also established a kind of world music in their courts. Frederick entertained a great many Middle Eastern, Arab musicians; he was, as is well known, altogether very interested in Arab culture. And Timur maintained something like an orchestra, with musicians from all the regions he had conveniently conquered. So what we are looking at here is world music as a sign of power.’

    In The Waltz, a 2005 collaboration with Concerto Köln, Sarband brought its attention to bear on the mystic music of East and West, specifically that of the nineteenth century. In the early 1800s there was a huge craze in Europe for waltzes, which also spilled over into the Ottoman Empire.

    ‘There were composers there who liked waltzes, but in the Middle Eastern tradition - like Dede Efendi, who adopted European waltzes in his compositions and then turned these waltz elements into mystical, religious waltzes. In this project Sarband attempts to combine Beethoven’s orchestral waltzes with the religious sema waltzes by Dede Efendi.’

    Sarband’s most recent CD is The Arabian Passion according to J.S. Bach. Here Bach’s melodies remain unaltered, but the ensemble, in collaboration with Arab and European musicians, has given them an Arabian feel. The lyrics of the alto arias were translated into Arabic, and are sung in Arabic by the Lebanese singer Fadia El-Haj. A mixture of early music instruments and musicians of both the jazz and classical Arabic styles present an equally diverse blend of musical traditions.
    Suleman Taufiq
    is originally from Syria, and has lived in Germany since the late 1960s. He is a freelance writer and regularly presents radio programmes on Oriental music for German listeners on Westdeutscher Rundfunk.

    Translated by Charlotte Collins
    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    November 2011

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