Indomitable early-music icon Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XII returned to Kansas City for one of only three performances in the United States of his latest project, “Honey and Blood: The Cycles of Life,” presented by The Friends of Chamber Music at the Folly Theater.
Rumored among local musicians as “the event of the season,” Jordi Savall’s
appearance on The Friends of Chamber Music’s Early Music Series certainly lived
up to the hype. Featuring five vocalists and six instrumentalists from across
Eurasia with him, Savall’s crew exhibited high levels of musicianship,
commitment, and artistry in expressing the musical storytelling of the Balkan
Following the arc of a lifetime, Honey and Blood: The Cycles of Life
is a cohesive, thoughtful five-part musical exploration of the elements of life
the Balkan peoples have in common, despite their individual differences and tumultuous histories: love, emotion, beauty, traditions, family. Arranged by the yearly seasonal changes and their matching stages of life, Savall’s program was
equal parts enthralling and mesmerizing.
The first part, "Creation: The Life, the Meeting," began furtively, with an ominous, improvisatory drone before vocalist Lior Elmaleh took center stage and sang the first lyrics in Hebrew (translated to English in projected supertitles above stage), of universal principles and earthly elements resulting from the great and mysterious Creation. Each “season” received a similar treatment: a continuous, fluid movement between 3–4 folksongs emphasized the how analogous the tunes were not only in harmonic and melodic development but also in poetic sentiment. An instrumental interlude segued into the next set or season.
Each performer enjoyed time in the spotlight throughout the evening. The vocalists were all outstanding talents and distinctly memorable, singing idiomatically according to each song’s language in vastly differing tone colors and qualities. Irini Derebei from Greece had a sensuality about her, lustily belting the words with the best audience engagement. Gürsoy Dinçer of Turkey displayed tenderness in his impressive solo during “Song of young people.” In the "Winter" set, Bulgarian vocalist Stoimenka Outchikova-Nedialkova (dressed in traditional Bulgarian garb) had the most haunting solo of the concert, the wailing, mournful “A Widow Was Weeping.”
Clearly the leader, Savall had a quietly commanding yet egalitarian presence on stage. Everyone was allowed a lengthy, skillful solo, especially during the instrumental interludes and the jovial Gypsy song “Duy, duy, duy denomori
deshudui” which closed the first half. Yurdal Tokcan (oud), Dimitri Psonis (santur and morisca), and David Mayoral (percussion) laid a strong but subtle foundation the entire evening. During the instrumental “Balkan Elegie,” Nedyalka Nedyalko performea sweeping, active solo on the kaval, and Hakan Güngör gave a lengthy, technically impressive introduction to Macedonian folk song “Godini, ludi mladi godini” in the "Autumn" set. Savall himself took few solos on vielle and rebec, most notably on “Duy, duy” and the “Balkan Elegie in the second half,” playing with a concentrated yet expressive approach.
One particularly moving moment was during the first "Winter" set, when French vocalist Marc Mauillon and duduk player Haïg Sarikouyoumdjian were revealed in a house-right box after the lights had been dimmed. Sarikouyoumdjian and Savall
sustained a soft continuous pitch to support Mauillon performance of the stirring Byzantine chant, “En to stavro pares tosa.” Following the chant, Sarikouyoumdjian stayed in the box for the most elaborate instrumental solo on the concert, the Armenian traditional “Exile lament.” The lament was somber, but Sarikouyoumdjian’s technique on the duduk, a muted-sounding double reed wind instrument—from breath support to circular breathing to clear phrasing—was
spellbinding. His performance produced an atmosphere of palpable, lingering stillness in the room which words fail to accurately describe.
Another highlight was the final section of the program, "(Re)conciliation," in which songs of the Sephardic, Hebrew, Christian, Ottoman, and Serbian languages were sung consecutively first and then simultaneously, ultimately unveiling the contrasts and parallels in each. Honey and Blood was an experience that transported the listener to a specific place and time,
celebrating history, memory, and culture and exposing the brilliance and beauty in life’s simplicities that we all share. At times lively and dance-like, at others subdued and reflective, Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI’s appearance in Kansas City was indeed a night to remember.
Read the review here: http://kcmetropolis.org/issue/november-6-2013/article/honey-and-blood-is-sweet-yet-runs-deep