Vancouver Chamber Choir

Birdsong: Poetry of Rumi

Conductor Jon Washburn Featured Guest Amir Kushkani, tar and sitar

Date 28 April 2006, 20.00 Venue Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Reviewer Kulpreet Sasan


This was a unique experience, actually a unique series of experiences, three distinct performances in one concerts. The Worcester Fragments was followed by a two-song set performed by a modern fusion ensemble and finally ended with Birdsong, a choral setting by Edward Henderson of poems by the Persian mystic Rumi.

The Worcester Fragments
was music of a type that most fans of chamber choirs would know well. This was music performed with tact and control, the singers delivering a performance that was formal, touching, and spiritually alive. The Choir knew and understood the material and performed it with a vigorous energy. One could feel the gothic resonance and the sense of drama in the form. All in all, this was a beautiful and touching start.

The contrast with the next set was stark. The group of singer Nooshin Abedi, Amir Koushkani on tar, Stefan Cihelka on tabla, Edward Henderson on Guitar and Finn Manniche on cello set two poems by Hafiz to music and created all kinds of beautiful textures and melodies. Of particular note was the voice of Nooshin Abedi and her ability to play off the timbre of Koushkani's tar. Edward Henderson's steady and subtle rhythms were augmented beautifully by Manniche's cello.

The music created was memorable, unique, and resonant. Each player understood their contributions and played with a sense of self assured tact and grace. This was a seamless fusion of East and West, of textures and melodies, harmony and rhythms. One need not have understood a word to be moved.

The second half of the evening, dedicated to Edward Henderson's Birdsong, a setting of the poetry of 13th-century Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi to a chorus with tar, was much less successful, even an aggressively unpleasant experience.

The piece seemed rife with bad choices in the staging and performance. My litany of complaints begins with the choice of the text. The translation was either too direct and raw or overloaded with heavy, flowery language. The experience was the musical equivalent of being in a small room with too much potpourri: a stuffy, claustrophobic experience.

Henderson's score, which yearned to be generous, came off as rather tired. The melodies were uninspired and rather hackneyed, the rhythmic elements non-existent, the chorus itself of limited effect. Some of this could have been forgiven had not the piece also relied on rather trite sound effects: the wind and a chorus of birds.

Koushkani played well, but the tar as a solo instrument ran out of tone and colour long before the end (an overlong forty minutes), and it increasingly seemed an odd accompaniment to the chorus. By the end, he was noodling at his instrument rather than playing anything of substance – the composer's fault, not the instrumentalist's.

The audience erupted in a joyous explosion at the end, many easily worked into what now seems the standard Vancouver ovation to almost anything.

© 2006 Kulpreet Sasan