Arias and Maqams

To the Aga Khan Museum last night for a program of Syrian and Western music by Lubana Al Quntar and friends; Eylam Basaidi on violin and April Centrone on oud and percussion..  It was my first time at the museum and the auditorium there is just gorgeous.  In a city with some pretty spectacular performance spaces this may just be the most beautiful.  It’s just a pity it’s so hard to get to on the TTC.  The program was distinctly heavy on the “Syrian” side of “Syrian and Western”.  There were Syriac hymns, muwasshahat, specifically waṣla of Aleppo and Syrian folk songs in a tradition sung by the women of Damascus (I believe).  I’m no expert in this music but it was possible to hear developments and continuities.  The hymns (in Aramaic) clearly influenced the later classical music though the former were basically modal while there was a lot more tone bending in the later pieces.  I hesitate to speculate on the relationship between the waṣla and the folk songs.  I know from my own experience with the folk music of the British Isles how influences go back and forth and how folk songs sung by a classically trained singer may not always reflect how they sound when performed more demotically.  Still, the audience lapped this bit up with much singing along and clapping accompaniment.


It was interesting to see the audience just as enthusiastic about the two opera arias sung by Lubana to taped orchestral accompaniment.  O mio babbino caro and Habanera might seem a bit hackneyed but they are effective enough recital numbers.  I don’t know how much Western singing Lubana is doing these days (there’s nothing on Operabase) but she’s got a very decent voice.  There’s plenty of volume and a rather lovely dark mezzo voce, although perhaps the top thins out a bit, especially when she throttles the volume back.

It was enjoyable though I could have used more background information about the Syrian pieces (not that 90% of the audience seemed to need any).  It was, in a way, Toronto in miniature.  A Syrian, a Turk and an American performed music from two different musical traditions for a very mixed audience.  We could use more of that.

Photo credit: Janet Kimber

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