|The colorful musicians of the Kyrgyz Republic|
One of the chief advantages of living in NYC is the opportunity to experience many cultures. Until last night we knew nothing about the Kyrgyz Republic, only that it was somewhere in Central Asia. The colorful program presented last night at Merkin Concert Hall got us curious about this landlocked country with a population smaller than that of NYC. Now we know that it was on the Silk Road and that waves of immigration and invasions have resulted in a varied culture. We learned that many of their musicians were trained under the Soviet system but that independence was achieved in 1991.
Last night was a love-fest between this small nation and our own. The Kyrgyz American Foundation has a mission-- to strengthen civil, humanitarian and cultural ties between the two nations, and one important way to accomplish this is through the arts. The love fest was not just on the stage. Kyrgyz pianist Aza Sydykov and American soprano Nikoleta Rallis are not just performing partners but romantic partners as well.
The program opened with a warm welcome from leaders of the Kyrgyz American Foundation: Mr. Sydykov and Jonathan Levin, another fine pianist. In an interesting twist, Mr. Sydykov accompanied Ms. Rallis for our own national anthem whilst Mr. Levin played that of the Kyrgyz Republic. We heard some folks singing along so now we know that there were Kryzyk people in the audience!
We came expecting a folkloric show but that angle presented itself only for a portion of the evening and that is the portion upon which we would like to focus. We are entirely unfamiliar with the stringed instrument known as the komuz but the virtuosity displayed by its players took our breath away. We would have liked to tell which of the two beautiful performers listed in the program played in the video we took just before intermission but we cannot. (The program failed us on other counts as well).
However, both of them played together in the second half and both Perizat Kopobaeva and Elvira Abdilova turned in exceptional performances. They played this instrument over each shoulder, upside down, and sideways, never missing a beat. Arms beat like the wings of a bird and chiffon sleeves floated like curtains in a breeze. An interesting feature of the komuz is the creation of harmonics which reminds us of our "dan bao" from Vietnam.
The rest of the program was also entertaining. Apparently The Kyrgyz Republic has produced some fine composers with names both difficult to spell and impossible to pronounce. Nowhere to be heard was a composition that was hard on the ears. The music was lovely and accessible to Western ears.
There was a third fine pianist on the program, the beautiful Kairy Koshoeva, seen above in a glamorous red gown. We enjoyed a composition entitled "Mash Botoi" or "Horse Race" which we were pleased to hear as the closing number of the evening--this time played by Mr. Levin with both komuz players adding to the fun.
One of the highlights of the evening was Ms. Rallis' singing of Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" and Ernest Charles' "When I Have Sung My Songs To You". Strangely, these American art songs were introduced as "folk songs". Of course, we could not tell the difference among the Kryzyk compositions, which ones were traditional and which ones not. We are all for eliminating categories and just appreciating the music!
And that we did! Some pieces were lyrical and melodic, others were staccato and propulsive, still others languorous. The variety of moods and colors were enjoyable, even when we could not understand the program (i.e. "Mash Botoi" was given the date of 1982 but the composer Atai Ogonbaev died in 1949. That is why we abandoned the program and just enjoyed the music.)
We will not close before crediting the lovely cellist Nurmira Greenberg who played a beautiful set accompanied by Mr. Levin on the piano. The set was all mid 20th c. but without any of the flaws we find in 20th c. music. There were also some improvisations by yet another pianist Joel Martin, an American with strong ties to The Kyrgyz Republic.
(c) meche kroop