Mar15: The Ghazal Ensemble Bring Indo-Persian Fusion to The Skirball

With Nowruz just around the corner, The Skirball Cultural Center and the Irvine Barclay Theatre will celebrate the Persian New Year with two very special concerts by the Grammy-nominated Ghazal Ensemble on March 15 and 17. Kamancheh (traditional Iranian fiddle) player Kayhan Kahlor and sitarist, Shujaat Hussain Khan, reunite to perform their dazzling blend of classical Persian and Indian music traditions and debut new works, joined this time by Sandeep Das on tabla.

The Ghazal Ensemble take their name from the ancient, pre-Islamic Arabic word, gȧzal (غزال pronounced: /gǝzǝl/), which originated in North Africa and the Middle East during the seventh century. The term denotes a lyric poem based on 'a series of couplets woven together by a very precise rhyming structure,' where a portion of the first line is maintained throughout in a convention known as radif. By way of the Silk Road trade route, the gȧzal eventually spread to Persia in the 12th century, where it was pronounced 'ghazal' and popularized by Sufi poets and mystics like Rumi and Hafez, before traveling to India by way of Urdu poets like Ghalib. In the 19th century, ghazals were set to music and eventually made their way to Europe, where they were popularized by German writers like Goethe and Friedrich Rückert.

Formed in 1995, Kayhan Kahlor and Shujaat Hussain Khan decided to collaborate within 20 minutes of meeting one another during an exploratory rehearsal in Los Angeles. Together, they released the ensuing Silk Road series: Lost Songs of the Silk Road (1997), As Night Falls on the Silk Road (1998), and Moonrise on the Silk Road (2005). The Ghazal Ensemble was nominated in 2003 for a Grammy for The Raina magnificent ECM recording of their live 2001 concert in Bern, Switzerland. I play the track, "Eternity," from that album on this week's Rhythm Planet show as a taste of what we have to look forward to with the upcoming March 15 and 17 performances.

Culling from their respective centuries-old music traditions, the Persian dastgāh and the Indian Hindustani raga share inherent formal elements that encourage this scintillatingly creative dialogue. Mesmerizing and rapturous, "Eternity" follows the long-form improvisational raga arc, recalling the lyrical poem structure of a ghazal. Together, Kahlor and Khan explore and revisit traditional motifs throughout the piece, weaving together harmonies with their finely filigreed playing into an intricate, rhapsodic tapestry that gradually builds to an ecstatic climax.

Three-time Grammy nominee Kayhan Kahlor is an internationally renowned virtuoso on kamancheh who has been instrumental in popularizing Persian music in the west and is a driving creative force in today's world music scene. Kahlor is also a member and composer for Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.

Kahlor & KhanSitar virtuoso Shujaat Hussain Khan's musical pedigree extends back seven generations as the son and disciple of the late, revered Ustad Vilayat Khan. He belongs to the Imdad Khan gharana or tradition of the sitar, and his playing style, gayaki ang, is imitative of the subtleties of the human voice.

The pair are backed this time around by the exacting rhythms of young leading tabla virtuoso, Sandeep Das, a disciple of the late maestro Pandit Kishan Maharaj of the Benares gharana. He has built a diverse international career collaborating with other genre-crossing artists, among them Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.

Each of these artists has already achieved virtuosic status within his own classical tradition, but as musical cousins, the Ghazal Ensemble will explore the rich cross-pollination of their musical DNA through inspired improvisations that promise to fascinate.

I've been told that tickets for both shows are selling quickly, as this rare opportunity to see the trio in performance is a blessing not to be missed! Click these links to purchase tickets or for more information about the Ghazal Ensemble at The Skirball Cultural Center on March 15 and the March 17 concert at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. To view the full US/Canada tour schedule, click here.





Tom Schnabel