Building cultural bridges. Unearthing connections between disparate peoples. Easing tensions through dialogue.
This is the work of diplomacy. And art.
In the world of classical music, distinctions of all kinds — stylistic, national, ethnic, religious — are often eased through illuminating, creative programming emphasizing resonance and links.
Then there’s the work of Jordi Savall, early-music specialist and co-founder and director of the 40-year-old ensemble Hespèrion XXI.
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Lauded as a musical archaeologist who seeks out common ground from wide swaths of the world, Savall, who lives in his native Catalonia, digs beneath political divisions and historical resentments to find cohesive elements between cultures. Through Hespèrion XXI and in partnering with other musicians, he reveals these elements in performances of thrilling expression.
A Seattle audience will get the chance to hear Savall’s latest explorations Friday, Feb. 28, at Town Hall Seattle, when Early Music Guild presents Hespèrion XXI and Mexican folklore group Tembembe Ensamble Continuo performing a new program called “Folias Antiguas y Criollas: From the Ancient World to the New World.”
“Jordi Savall has a way of blending the talents of his collaborators in projects developed over many years, resulting in depth, brilliance and technical perfection,” says Gus Denhard, longtime executive director of Seattle’s Early Music Guild, which presents historically informed music. “But he also has a desire to bring people together, to resolve fault lines.”
In recent years, Savall’s critically praised concerts have brought together traditional Jewish, Christian and Muslim music from the Balkans and shed light on Renaissance-era mutual influence between musicians of Christian Europe and Arab cultures.
The concert of 16th-to-18th-century Spanish and South American folias that will be presented in Seattle includes music by Diego Ortiz, Pedro Guerrero-Moresca and Código Trujillo. Colonial and folk music from all over South America is on the bill, too, including a section devoted to Celtic traditions in the New World.
What Savall has done with his Christian-Jewish-Muslim and Turkish-Armenian programs, Denhard says, he’s now doing with the Spanish conquest of the New World.
“Artists like Savall seek out points of tension and apply pressure — in this case, with Spanish musicians bringing Old World European traditions to the same concert as a Mexican ensemble dedicated to the music of an indigenous, pre-Spanish population.
“When I work in Mexico, I see a form of prejudice and separation among people who associate themselves with Spain and those who trace their birth to the original population. Here is a project that addresses this, and the result is beautiful.”
Reached by phone, Savall, 72, says the Town Hall program “connects ancient times with our own time, showing us our history and our traditions. Music is a very practical art because if you want to listen to the sound of the Renaissance, it’s not in a museum. You can easily be exposed to it in concerts.”
An early-music superstar, Savall — who will play treble viol and seven-string bass viol for this concert — and Hespèrion XXI are credited with rescuing numerous compositions from oblivion.
“Anybody who plays early music has a certain responsibility to make people not only happy but understand what we are and what we’re about,” Savall says. “Music is like a time machine. You travel through music and have the same emotions as the people from that time. You are there. Music is fantastic in how it can help us remember who we are and what we can do. It helps us build a better future. Without memory, there is no future.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org