Sarband is an unique ensemble, assimilating the stimuli of different musical cultures into its performances. The repertoire encompasses not only medieval music from the Orient and Occident, but also staged productions of Baroque and contemporary music.
Sarband was founded in March 1986 by musicologist and musician Dr. Vladimir Ivanoff, mainly with the goal of demonstrating the relationships between European early music and the musical cultures of Islam, as well as their considerable consequence for contemporary music. The name of the band is derived from a Persian and Arabic word designating the improvised transition between two parts of a suite. Sarband is an international project with artists from Iran, Germany, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, and the USA.
On October, 26th, 2003, Sarband was awarded the ‘Classic Echo’ for the production “Dream of the Orient” together with Concerto Köln ensemble. Alongside that, Sarband’s list of honors includes: Grammy Nomination “Traditional Music” (1992) , Echo Klassik (2006) and German World Music Award 2008. Since 2011, Sarband started featuring its own annual festival – “Tonfolgen”, Bonn, Germany.
The main stylistic concept of Sarband resides in connecting cultures, people and epochs. Its programs mediate between past and present, Early Music and living traditions, thus, uniting European Middle Ages, ancient music, folklore, non-Western classical music, Christian and Islamic mysticism, Sufi music, and Jazz. The cooperation in the ensemble is not a fashionable crossover, but conceived as a continuous dialogue on equal terms. All the artists unrestrictedly contribute their native traditions, their personal histories and their own creativity to the programs, so that Sarband also becomes a musical training ground for communication and tolerance between different cultural identities. This can be also confirmed by the numerous reviews. For instance, Frank Heindl, DAZ Magazine wrote: “Sarband’s music speaks for itself– their message of intercultural understanding does not need any explanations”. To conclude, as Alain Maestracci, Nice Matin Magazine (France), once referred to Sarband, the ensemble is: “an immense ode to peace”.
Sarband’s unique profile as an ensemble, combining historical performance with non-Western practices, has led to the development of innovative formats for its concerts. In this sense, it is not accidental that the Early Music America Magazine wrote in a review that: “The sensuous voice of Lebanese singer Fadia el-Hage was mesmerizing in songs laced with passion, bawdy humor, and a touch of melancholy. The instrumentalists were outstanding, playing a variety of exotic instruments, serving up a rich feast of music that appeals directly to the senses.”.
In recent years, Sarband has performed in numerous international festivals, for widely differing audiences, from Early Music to Rock and Jazz. These include: ‘Horizonte-Festival’ in the context of the “Berliner Festspiele” (Germany), ‘Settimana Internationale’ in Enrice (Italy), ‘Szene-Festival’ in Salzburg (Austria), ‘Istanbul-Festival’ in Istanbul (Turkey), ‘Settimane Internazional’ in Siena (Italy), ‘Romanischer Sommer’ in Cologne (Germany), ‘Internationale Funkausstellung’ in Berlin (Germany), ‘SFINKS-World Music’ in Antwerpen (Netherlands), ‘Kampnagel-Sommertheater’ in Hamburg (Germany), and ‘GREC-Festival’ in Barcelona (Spain).
Musical Pleas for Peace
– The Arabian Passion According to J. S. Bach: In his Arabian Passion, Vladimir Ivanoff, musical director of Sarband, compares Jesus’ suffering and that of the colonized Middle East in the time of the New Testament with the current situation. Bach’s Baroque precision and complexity meet the spontaneity of classical Arab music and Jazz: two traditions, which have a lot in common, for example highly sophisticated and structured improvisation techniques, but also two voices, which could hardly be more different: that of the traditional Arab world and a new voice that is spreading through the world—the American way of life.
– Passio-Compassio: Sarband have specialized in challenging history and narratives from unusual points of view and in illuminating connections that are obvious only to the “third ear”. With his Arab, Turkish and German musicians, Whirling Dervishes, jazz saxophonists and a jazz string quartet, Vladimir Ivanoff invites on a meditative journey through space and time, through religions and cultures, into a spiritual space of mutual awareness beyond personal, denominational or religious borders. These musical embodiments of Passio and Compassio are framed by the ritual of the Muslim Mevlevi dervishes, which symbolizes human salvation by way of loving union with the Creator, comparable to Christian notions of unio mystica.
– Sacred Bridges: Jews, Christians and Muslims sing and listen to the same songs of lament and joy, confessions of sin, songs of praise and glory. In this joint program, Psalm settings by composers from three cultures and religions, but the same epoch, build bridges crossing today’s ruptures. Psalms serve as a source of spirituality, a political instrument, a link between tradition and present, but most of all as a path leading humans together. Sarband intertwined the compositions of Salamone Rossi, Claude Goudimel, J. P. Sweelinck and Alî Ufkî in order to recapture the original intention of the psalms: to be sacred bridges between peoples, religions, between human beings.
Of Women and Men
– Vox Feminae: In this program we pursue the female paths towards the cognition of God in early and traditional sacred music from Orient and Occident: songs from the Early Christian Oriental repertoire, chorales by Hildegard of Bingen and Brigitta of Sweden, sacred songs from rural Sweden, early polyphony from the Spanish Codex Las Huelgas. “Ensemble Sarband demonstrated impressively, how beautiful music from times gone by can be… Under the title “Vox Feminae”, the wonderful voices of Miriam Andersén and Fadia el-Hage sounded in the church … a concert, which many will remember for a long time, as the applause made very obvious.” Weser-Kurier
– Gentlemen of the Road: “Gentlemen of the Road” is the title of a historical novel published by Michael Chabon in 2007, in which two outlaws and a fugitive prince discover and prove their unexpected chivalrous virtues on their odyssey into the Khazar kingdom of the 10th century. Three gentlemen of the 21st century who have been venturing on their own personal world travels across historical periods and geographical spaces for decades, now meet in this constellation on the musical road from Istanbul to Munich, on the crossroads between Turkish and Western classical music, traditional repertoire, Avantgarde and Jazz. All three of them have a musical homeland, and all three of them are constantly led by their spirit of musical adventure to new continents of styles and expressions. They offer each other pieces, which have been crucial in their respective lives or their musical development. How their road companions handle them – with gallant virtue, resentment or boredom -, always remains to be seen and heard.
Roots into the Future
– Our Father Abraham: Ensemble Sarband sings about the history of Abraham’s family, which still contains fuel for political conflict as well as the seed of a new community of religions. Songs for the pilgrimage to Mecca and Sephardic-Jewish ballads, Qur’an recitation and Early Christian Aramaic hymns flow into a musical ritual, a celebration of the Father of a Multitude. Religious history and very human stories, sung in a spiritual atmosphere beyond inter-religious dispute.
– Cultures of Tolerance: Ensemble Sarband’s musical odyssey around the Mediterranean and across eight centuries of music history is meant neither to prove the mutual influence nor the insurmountable differences: it paints a musical picture of the everyday life that Jews shared with Christians and Muslims in Al-Andalus, the Ottoman Empire and the European Diaspora. Sephardic songs are placed beside Muslim Sufi hymns composed by a Christian convert; the Cantigas de Santa Maria, collected by King Alfonso el Sabio in the 13th century, and Catholic polyphony from the royal Spanish nunnery of Las Huelgas de Burgos are performed together with Ottoman-Turkish court music written by Jewish composers.
– Sefarad: Be it in Constantinople, Saloniki, Egypt, Syria, Palestine or the Balkans, the Sefardim were stimulated by prevailing local traditions and thus further developed their “imported” culture. The characteristic traditional songs of the Sefardim were and still are ‘romanzas’ in the Jewish-Spanish language called ‘judezmo’. These songs narrate about Jewish-Spanish life and Spanish history. This living, mostly female tradition, in which the exiles transmitted ancient epic tales in medieval Castilian Spanish, was significantly influenced by contact with the various languages and musical cultures of the regions where the Sefardim lived. The change- and painful exile history of the Sefardim is at the same time the story of uniquely fruitful intercultural encounters.
– Alî Ufkî / Wojciech Bobowski. Lord of the Horizons, Collector of Musical Worlds: The Ottoman Sultans saw themselves as the “Lords of the Horizons”, in whose realm the sun did not set. Wojciech Bobowski / Alî Ufkî became the true lord of the cultural horizons, having mastered more than a dozen languages as well as both Turkish and European music and moving between two of the world religions. His universal erudition and creativity are incomprehensible today; he was born a Pole and died after a long and uniquely prolific life as a citizen of the world and a collector of worlds. The 17th century, time of the great religious wars, led him to a commitment to faith, which did not rest on one religion, one culture only.
– Hortus conclusus – The Closed Gardens of Paradise: European and Persian-Ottoman music about gardens closed, mysterious and freshly in bloom, accompanied by projections of illustrations from the medieval Orient and Occident, tell how in the closed garden of paradise the “spiritual” and “worldly” spheres unite in a universal mysticism of love. “On the eroticism of faith. Vladimir Ivanoff and his Ensemble Sarband enchanted with treasures of the medieval Orient and Occident at the Graz Easter festival. Vladimir Ivanoff is a sophisticated cartographer of the exceptional. Delightful array of voices … The projected texts, displayed onto images of Gregorian notation, miniatures from the Bible or Oriental carpets, were a work of art in their own right. In a nutshell: seamless enjoyment.” Kleine Zeitung
– Odin’s Daughter: Ensemble Sarband combines an adventurous but true 17th-century story from Iceland and the Ottoman Empire with classical Ottoman and traditional Scandinavian music, accompanied by projections of text and images.”With instruments such as Gothic harp, cow horn, hand drum, the wind instrument Ney, the violin-like Kemenge and the Asian zither Kanun the artists created a unique atmosphere, in which not only the diverse musical cultures intertwined harmoniously, but, in the general context of the suspense-packed framework plot, a bridge of reconciliation was built.” Nordbayerischer Kurier
-Vienna 1683: An acoustic battle painting from and about Vienna 1683, one of the decisive turning points in European and Turkish history. Thunder of cannons and clarion calls, drumbeats, war songs and laments are certainly more entertaining in hindsight than during the actual event. But this military encounter is also the site for the first, cautious cultural approaches of modernity between Orient and Occident, which in later times merged into enchanting “alla turca” operas and melancholy Turkish waltzes.
– Dream of the Orient: The influence of the music of the Ottoman Empire on western music is most obvious in the use and adaption of Turkish percussion instruments in European orchestras. In addition, 18th-century European composers used stylistic features of Ottoman military music in their own compositions; this is how the alla turca style was created. “Under the direction of Markus Poschner, the orchestra [Dresden Philharmonic] performed with the multinational ensemble Sarband, in a way both sensitive and stirring. […] a subtle dialogue, atmospherically evocative … a delight for audience and musicians. Across all differences in form and sound, parallels and kinship could be discovered. Turkey was not an exporting country in a musical sense, but, in turn, absorbed Western currents. The audience has rarely ever applauded so persistently and so cordially.” Sächsische Zeitung
– Music for Emperors and Sultans: Music as a display of power is certainly on of the most successful means of political representation. First and foremost, European rulers were inspired by the old Oriental ceremonials, but Eastern rulers also increasingly oriented themselves by European courts. Consequently, a continuous and fruitful cultural exchange ensued. Sarband designed this program for a joint concert with the Bremen Philharmonics under the direction of Markus Poschner. Together with him, Sarband have performed this program with many new orchestras, last with the Dresden Philharmonics.
– The Waltz: Identifying an almost-forgotten phenomenon of cultural exchange, “The Waltz” juxtaposes early German waltzes by Beethoven, Lanner and Johann Strauss I with original Turkish waltz compositions from the same era. Just as Mozart and his generation were impressed and inspired by Ottoman culture and music, there was also a time when the sultans of the Ottoman world fell in love with Western culture, and especially with its dances – which resulted in Turkish adaptations of the waltz and dervishes dancing to waltzes at the Sultan’s courts.
– Sheherazade in Paris: Vladimir Ivanoff and Sarband tell the story of a fascinating approach and find Europe in Turkey and the Orient in Paris. “Closeness and distance were the two poles of this enchanting evening […] With her colorfully shaded soprano, Dilek Geçer lent great intesity to Callisto Guatelli Pasha’s song settings. In the second half, the audience was plain enthralled by this erotically charged singing. Celalettin Biçer on ney and kanun, Ahmed Kadri Rizeli (kemençe) and Ugur Isik (violoncello) created magical moments in their joint improvisations.” fg, Main Post
– Journeys to Unreachable Places: “Part of the audience… lost themselves in the exotic music, while others marvelled at this insight into an unfamiliar religious world. […] the applause lasted several minutes.” Mainpost
– Satie en Orient: It may seem strange at first to have oriental instruments play the music of a composer who personified the French genius, albeit in a highly personal way, better than most others. But these instruments throw a new light on Satie’s fine intuitive approach when he was in the process of creating his personal and utterly personal language. His vision was dreamlike, and in a single fleeting and furtive passage, there are evocations of the Middle Ages, Ancient Greece and the Orient. Satie experienced the end of a century, during which technological and scientific progress as well as social upheaval have accelerated to a breathtaking tempo. Like many others, he tries to turn back by immersing himself in the past and the far-away and by creating Middle Ages, mysticism, religion and Orient as his personal private psychological landscapes, only to realise – like we ourselves at the end of the millennium – that it was merely love from afar.
– Son of the Sheik: In 1926, Hollywood captured its dream of the bold and passionate “Oriental” in the movie “Son of the Sheik” with the legendary Rudolph Valentino in the leading role and thus nourished modern orientalism of Anglo-American character. Sarband complement, question, comment and cast irony on the Western image of the Orient with the sound of traditional Middle Eastern music, confronting Hollywood’s imaginary Orient with the reality of oriental music. Sarband’s music confronts the “Son of the Sheik”, this ingenious product of western exotist fantasy, with its actual object.
Exciting Soundscapes, Words and Music
– In the Realm of the Golden Apple: “[…] one of the most fascinating programs at the “styriarte” festival: humorous, entertaining, with exciting content.” Kronenzeitung
– A West-Eastern Divan: “Alternating with the musical performance, actor Dominique Horwitz enthusiastically reads excerpts from various poetical works – from Baudelaire to Heine and to pieces from Goethe’s collection “West-Eastern Divan”. This soiree is about wine and passion, intoxication and ecstasy – but essentially about God and faith. Vladimir Ivanoff is the musical director, equally captivating as a percussionist as well as responsible for the choice of poetry and music. Mustafa Dogan Dikmen enchants the audience with his ney and his vocal art. Celaleddin Biçer, ney and kanun, and Ahmet Kadri Rizeli with his bowed string instrument Kemençe provided unique sounds. The music is supplemented with Dominique Horwitz’ singular recitation, whose passion and masterful mimic art turn this poetry into an extraordinary experience.” Göttinger Tageblatt
– Passions: the deepest suffering, there is passion; true passion embodies suffering. Sarband explore this eternal truth of Christian thought, derived from the Passion of Christ and the martyrdom of the Saints, on a journey through the poetry, imagery and music of the era that generated its attitude towards life in it: the 15th century.
Vladimir Ivanoff– artistic director, percussion, lutes
Vladimir Ivanoff was born in Bulgaria, from where he emigrated to Germany as a young boy with his mother. Originally planning to become a film director, he decided to study musicology, art history and theater studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. With a prize-winning thesis on the earliest lute manuscript, he received his doctorate in musicology in 1985. Simultaneously, he studied lute and historical performance practice at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Musikhochschule, Karlsruhe. A grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft enabled him to proceed with a post-doctoral research project on the musical exchanges between Orient and Occident in Venice. He also started lecturing at various European and American universities and conservatories. Ivanoff has published several books, contributes regularly to music journals and encyclopedias, lectures at international symposia and conferences and directs workshops worldwide for the artistic and career development of young musicians. In 1986, while lecturing at the University in Munich, Ivanoff founded Ensemble Sarband, which originated from a seminar on historical performance practice. With this group he has since been performing in concerts, scenic projects, radio, TV and CD productions all over Europe, Asia and the U.S.
As a CD producer, composer and arranger, he works with numerous artists from widely diverse backgrounds, amongst them: Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Megapolis, Concerto Köln, The King’s Singers, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, RIAS Chamber Choir, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Ivanoff was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1994. With Sarband, he received two Echo-Klassik CD Awards in 2003 and 2006. The Region of Apulia awarded him with the “Premio Mousiké” for the diffusion of Early Music in the Mediterranean in 2007.
The following year he received the German World Music Award for his work with Sarband. As an ensemble director, musician and scholar, Ivanoff endeavors to mediate between the theory and practice of music. He illuminates the connecting threads between Orient and Occident, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, past cultures and present time. By doing this, he is not interested in creating hip cross-cultural mishmash projects. Instead, he is driven to create a deeper public consciousness for cultural distinctions, for clichés, for the patterns, which determine our perception of the Other and the Foreign.
Fadia El-Hage– voice
Fadia El-Hage was born in Beirut (Lebanon) started her musical career at the age of fourteen as a singer with the Rahbani brothers and with Fairouz. She also worked as an actor in Lebanese television and movies. In 1984, she graduated from the University of Lebanon with a degree in psychology. She and her husband then emigrated to Germany, where she studied voice (specialization: oratorio) at the Richard-Strauss-Konservatorium in Munich, obtaining her diploma in 1990. She is one of the very few singers mastering and combining the traditions of Western and Mid-Eastern classical music. Her repertoire extends from classical Arab music, European music from the Middle Ages to Contemporary music.
Since 1990 she has performed as a soloist in Ensemble Sarband, Vox and L’Orient Imaginaire, specializing in Medieval and Mediterranean song. In 1994 she returned to Lebanon, where, since her breakthrough concert at the 1998 Festival of Baalbeck, she is considered one of the Arab world’s major singers.
Dilek Geçer– voice
Giuseppe Paolo Cecere– voice, viella, lira da braccio, hurdy gurdy
Mustafa Dogan Dikmen– voice, ney, percussion
Miriam Andersén– voice, gothic harp, cowhorn
Fabio Accurso– lutes, flutes, reeds, percussion
Susanne Ansor– vielle, rebec
Celaleddin Biçer– ney, kanun
Ya Dong– pipa
Ian Harrison– cornett, shawm, bagpipes, voice, fiddle
Mohammed Ali A. Hashim– violin, viola
Ugur Isik– ajakli keman, cello
Angelika Moths– harpsichord, organ, qanun
Furat Qadduori– qanun
Safinaz Rizeli– kanun
Ahmet Kadri Rizeli– kemençe, percussion, voice
Charbel Rouhana– oud, voice
Adnan Schanan– nay, oud, voice
Bahadir Sener– kanun, percussion
Jean Walther– santur, percussion, shawm, bagpipes, nay, viella