In the vein of 91Classical's Classical Crossroads, our programming feature that explores the blurring of lines between Western classical and other traditions, here's the third in our series of digital mixtapes.
The place where Western classical music meets non-Western musical traditions can be exhilarating, resulting in new sounds and ideas through the combination of distinct traditions. It can also be fraught.
Issues of Western colonial history and cultural appropriation have certainly influenced music-making of all kinds, and an increasingly globalized world has prompted some critics to describe the entire concept of "world music" as both outdated and offensive.
In the midst of all these complexities, the musical exchange between cultures continues to happen in many ways. Some of the compositions below feature traditional instruments as soloists in Western classical ensembles; other composers seek to fully blend culturally distinct musical languages.
What follows is certainly only a small example of how cultures have musically interacted.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, mvt. 2 (arranged and performed by Joachim Horsley in a Cuban Rumba style)
Formally trained in both classical and jazz styles, composer, arranger and orchestrator Joachim Horsley says he has a "passion for mixing disparate styles of music." His arrangement of one of Beethoven's most famous symphonic movements in a Cuban Rumba style was a viral hit, garnering over 1.5 million views on Youtube and fueling a successful fundraising campaign for an entire album of classics reimagined by Horsely in a Latin dance music style.
Terry Riley: In C (performed on Indian instruments)
One of Riley's most influential teachers was Pandit Pran Nath, a classical Indian singer with whom the composer studied in the 1970's. The influence of Indian music on Riley was profound, and can be heard manifesting in much of the composer's work in various ways, including the fluency between the improvised and the composed and formal structures that unfold in more gradual, meditative ways.
In C, one of Riley's most famous compositions and one that's considered a masterpiece of the minimalist movement, demonstrates some of these concepts. In a nutshell, the piece consists of 53 musical modules that each member of the ensemble plays in sequence, repeating it until they individually choose to move on to the next.
What results is a pulsing cacophony that gradually transforms in front of the ears. And since Riley doesn't specify specific instruments for the performance, here's one version that is (fittingly, considering his influences), performed on traditional Indian instruments. After a lengthy improvised intro, the modules begin around the 4:45 mark.
The Wu-Force and chatterbird: Ya Li Da
Nashville-based ensemble The Wu-Force is, at its core, a meeting of wordly styles. The group, whose name is fashioned after guzheng player Wu Fei, defies genre by drawing from influences that range from Appalachian folk to traditional Chinese classical music to garage rock.
Comprised of Fei, banjoist Abigail Washburn and multi-instrumentalist Kai Welch, the trio recently performed with Nashville chamber ensemble chatterbird (Fei is their composer in residence this season).
"Ya Li Da," a Wu-Force original, creatively weaves together many of those influences: Fei's refined chops on her traditional Chinese instrument; boisterous communal folk singing alternating with Washburn's banjo picking; orchestral flairs reminiscent of Copland's distinctively "American" sound— all framed by the adventurous chamber style that chatterbird is known for.
Tunde Jegede: Exile and Return
Born in London to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, Tunde Jegede learned to navigate a multifaceted identity from a young age. Having studied both cello at the Purcell School of Music in London and kora (a West African harp-lute) in Gambia from master Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, Jegede seeks out the blending of his cultural traditions in an idiom he pioneered: African Classical Music.
Jegede has collaborated as a composer and instrumentalist with some of the world's major Western classical ensembles, including the Royal Philharmonic and London Mozart Players. He's featured here playing his own music on kora with the Brodsky Quartet.
Claude Debussy: Estampes, No. 1: Pagodes
The 1889 World's Fair in Paris, which included (often problematic) displays of art, music and culture from around the globe, had a considerable effect on a young Claude Debussy. He reportedly spent hours listening to performances of traditional Javanese gamelan music.
Echoes of the scales, rhythms and melodies of the Indonesian ensemble can be heard in Debussy's "Pagodes," the title a reference to another East Asian art: the tiered levels of pagoda towers.
Malek Jandali: Piano Quintet No. 1 (Aleppo)
Known for interweaving Middle Eastern modes into Western classical structures, German-born Syrian-American composer Malek Jandali writes music that spans cultural bridges and serves as the centerpiece of his humanitarian activism. Called to preserve and protect the rich cultural heritage of his Syrian homeland, especially as it is being eradicated by war, Jandali founded Pianos for Peace, a nonprofit organization working to build peace through music and education. His String Quartet No. 1 in E Flat Major ("Allepo") draws melodies from the ancient Syrian city for which it's named.
Jandali says his music is written as an homage for Syria's freedom and is inspired by the courageous acts of those resisting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He recently visited Nashville to premiere his String Quartet, a commission from the Nashville Symphony especially for the Violins of Hope.
Tune in on Wednesday evenings at 6:06 to hear our Classical Crossroads feature on 91Classical.