Lalezar Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Lalezar Ensemble 

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LALEZAR ENSEMBLE

When Kemal Ataturk established modern Turkey in 1923, he sought to transform the Islamic country into a cosmopolitan, secular state--and so the centuries of brilliant court music produced during the Ottoman Empire days were written right out of the history books. Fortunately, Ataturk's plan failed, but it took decades for the music to be properly revived. By the 70s musicians were receiving a full, formal training in the tradition from Istanbul's State Conservatoire, and now this vast repertoire is integral to the country's cultural fabric. Still, there's something impressive about Lalezar: Music of the Sultans (Traditional Crossroads), the new four-CD project by the Lalezar Ensemble, a group of classically trained Turkish musicians, most of whom work for the state's prestigious radio orchestra. The group devotes one CD to works written by the sultans themselves; one to compositions by minority Jews, Greeks, and Armenians; one to music for kocek dancers, the cross-dressing boys who entertained both at court and in Istanbul taverns; and one to a retrofitted suite of music composed by different artists tied together by a common mode, or makam, called the segah. The stately, reserved music is performed on the zitherlike kanun, the Persian spike fiddle known as the kemance in Turkey, a flute called the ney, and hand drums called the daire and kudum; the group also includes three superb vocalists who sing elegant unison lines. No one ever cuts loose here, but the discs are filled with gorgeous, melancholy melodies, sophisticated rhythmic variations, and a lovely mesh of instrumental colors. The extensive historical liner notes that accompany each volume are fascinating, but even without the background the performances are engrossing. This Chicago gig is one of only four U.S. appearances. Wednesday, March 7, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6169.

PETER MARGASAK

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