Jordi Savall is a very well-known figure in the study of historical music, specializing in the recovery and reconstruction of early music. In particular, he has developed an extensive repertoire for the viola da gamba. He has found three musical ensembles, recorded 160 albums, performs on average 140 concerts per year, and has won numerous awards, including one for the soundtrack of "All the Mornings of the World" (Tous Les Matins du Monde).
Ferran Savall is Jordi's son, and absorbed music at home from his earliest days, and plays Funk, Blues, Soul, Jazz, and "Flamenco Fusion" when not performing with his father.
For this concert, Jordi alternated between playing a Lira da Gamba, a viola-sized instrument, which is held upright and bowed like a miniature cello, and a seven-stringed bass viol de gamba, which is a cello-sized instrument with roughly that range. We were sitting on the left (the "cheap seats" for an EMN concert) which gave us an excellent view of Sr. Ferran's remarkable bowing technique. Since the bass viol has seven strings, it has quite a distinct arch to the strings in order to make them all playable, which results in the bow moving in an almost semi-circular fashion as distinct from the flatter bowing style possible with a four-stringed instrument. Given that Ferran also bows "underhanded" in the antique style (with the open side of the hand upward), he was quite fascinating to watch as well as to listen to. We also had a good view of Ferran's fingering on his chosen instrument for the night, the theorbo. (A theorbo is long-necked lute with extra strings and a second pegbox.)
The concert was titled "Folias and Romances: Musical Dialogs Between Orient and Occident, and Between Ancient Europe and the New World."
In this case, "Orient" was given the classical sense of the the Levant and Mideast, with the easternmost piece coming from Afghanistan. The concert opened with Sephardic, Hebrew, and Afghan music, representing the Orient. In the first piece, the Lira da Gamba predominated, while the theorbo provided a continuo. In the second, the theorbo and Ferran singing took the lead. In the third, the Lira wrapped a counter-tune around the theorbo's lead.
The second section of the concert was "The Celtic Traditions," in which the elder Savall soloed on the viol for a medley of strathspeys, reels, and hornpipes. It was very interesting to hear well-known Celtic musical figures played on this instrument. Savall was able to make the bass strings of the viol drone like bagpipes while playing a lively tune on the upper strings.
Next was "The Catalan Traditions" (well known to the Savalls, who are natives of Catalonia), then "The Spanish Folias," "From Occident" (Breton and more Catalonia), "Dialogues: The Mediterranean Traditions", and "Ostinatos from the Old and New World."
The "Dialogues" was one of the most interesting sections. Jordi gave us one of his rare remarks, explaining that each of the four pieces in the segment was based on the same tune: a Greek dance, a Sephardic lullaby, a faster Morrocan piece in a minor mode, and a Turkish version similar in many ways to the Greek. Sr. Ferran noted that each culture claimed their version as the "original" but that they were probably all wrong in that each had evolved from a common ancestor dating back to 500AD--.
The full house gave them a lengthy standing ovation, which eventually drew an encore, with Jordi playing a piece by Martin Marais, and Ferran one of his own compositions.
Occasionally, we are privileged to experience a true master at work, and that was the case this evening. Jordi Savall's playing is magical, and Ferran Savall is a worthy son to his masterly father.
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