‘Orkestra Marhaba’ Exhibits Sound of Empire in Classical Turkish Concert

Orkestra Marhaba

The Islamic Civilization & Societies Program along with the music department hosted a concert on Thursday of Turkish classical music featuring the group Orkestra Marhaba. The ensemble’s ranks were comprised of ethnomusicologists, students, teachers, engineers, and local musicians all coming together to “introduce classical and jazz audiences to the Eastern Makam (modal) tradition,” according to the program.

The concert was held in Higgins 300, and was met with an impressive turnout. One of the founders of the group, Fred Stubbs, remarked in the beginning that the group had never performed for so many people.

From the get-go, thoughts of wonder emerged in the audience when looking at the many unfamiliar instruments. Waiting before the audience was the ud, a short-necked, plucked, and unfretted lute that resembled a 12-string guitar in the shape of an egg. There was also the yaylı tambur, a bowed and fretted lute that resembled a banjo with a longer and skinnier neck.

Among the remaining traditional instruments were the ney and the bendir, an end-blown flute and a frame drum for rhythm, respectively. There were also some familiar sights, such as a violin, cello, and double bass. The program stated that these additions indicate the “happy marriage of non-traditional instrumentals into the framework of classical Turkish music.” The presence of these familiar instruments served to bring the two distinct cultures of modern Western and classical Ottoman together, almost as a gesture of mutual respect.

Just before the music began, the lights were dimmed and the setting became a perfect reflection of what was to be heard. The music, though relatively quiet in the acoustic setting, was grandiose and regal. It was the sound of an empire, heard in the rich, plunging melodies and deep intonations.

The ensemble played a variety of traditional forms throughout the concert, like Peşrev, a slow-paced prelude, and Şarkı, a classical song written in verse and featuring vocals from Shanteri Baliga. There were some pieces the ensemble performed that incited ecstatic feeling with a steep melodic contour and fast-paced rhythm, and others that reflected meditation in low-pitched droning and slow rhythm. They transitioned between these forms well, and the progression of the concert flowed naturally.

Perhaps what was most interesting was the Taksim, or improvisation. Taksim, though technically not a form, is an essential part of the Turkish musical modes, Makam. The program reveals that Taksims can be planned in advance to open a concert, or can happen spontaneously among the musicians.

These improvisations truly exhibited the skill of the musicians. The members of the ensemble would take turns performing solos while the others provided a simple, harmonic structure underneath. The performance of Volkan Efe on the ud—probably the closest thing to a guitar solo in Eastern Makam tradition—was the most prominent. Though not exactly a Fender, the ud was displaying some impressive flourishes and maneuvers. Amid these classical and formal traditions of eastern music, it was really cool to see Efe essentially just jamming out.

The group ended with a performance of the longa form. According to Stubbs, it is common to end a classical concert like this with a more light-hearted dance form. This final piece featured solos from the violin and expressed more familiar and mirthful melodies, at a fun pace.

Featured Image by Sanket Bhagat