Episodes:

Photographs by Scott Friedlander ©2013. Used with permission.

Jason Kao Hwang’s EDGE Ensemble:
Burning Bridge

Delve into the raucous, funky world of Jason Hwang’s eight-piece band and their rowdy, collective improvisations that invoke the legacies of New Orleans jazz, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus. He is joined by a deep brass section with Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Joe Daley on tuba, and Steve Swell on trombone, plus Ken Filiano on bass, Andrew Drury on drums, Wang Guowei on erhu (Chinese fiddle), and Sun Li on pipa (Chinese lute). This concert was presented in 2010 in conjunction with the exhibition Fiona Tan: Rise and Fall.

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Chinese Visionary: Music of Ge Gan-ru

Experience the unique musical voice of Chinese-born composer Ge Gan-ru, who expands the language of chamber music in provocative and challenging ways. His compositions emphasize novel playing techniques, unorthodox forms, Chinese tone qualities, and melodic ideas that range from the lyrical and charming to the searing and tragic. On this podcast, hear four of his works performed by the Shanghai Quartet with pianist Kathryn Woodard, the ModernWorks ensemble, and pianist Margaret Leng Tan on toy instruments in a work based on a twelfth-century Chinese poem. These performances were recorded in 2006 and 2007 at the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery of Art as part of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series.

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Left: Photo credit Ken Howard. Right: Detail, F1903.284

Music From Japan:
Ancient Winds/Modern Percussion

Immerse yourself in the ethereal sounds of this traditional court music ensemble as they perform the haunting music of the Japanese gagaku alongside new music written for these unusual instruments, including Toru Takemitsu’s “Seasons.” Mysterious tone-clusters from the ancient mouth organ hover above fleeting sounds from flute, double-reed, and panpipe, accompanied by a phalanx of modern percussion creating an otherworldly atmosphere. The ensemble features an all-star quartet with Mayumi Miyata on sho (mouth organ), Hitomi Nakamura on hichiriki (double-reed), Takeshi Sasamoto on ryuteki (flute) and haisho (panpipe), and Yasunori Yamaguchi on contemporary percussion. This concert was presented as part of the Music From Japan Festival 2008.

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Photo courtesy of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

New Sounds from Arab Lands

Relax to mellow, Arab-inspired jazz by five accomplished performer-composers from Syria and Tunisia and featuring clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, who earned a Grammy Award with the Silkroad Ensemble for their 2017 CD Sing Me Home. This innovative quintet creates new music inspired by Middle Eastern traditions with influences from jazz and Western classical music, blending composition with improvisation in vibrant ways. Kinan Azmeh is joined by Basel Rajoub on tenor saxophone, Jasser Haj Youssef on violin and viola d’amore, Feras Charestan on qanun, and Khaled Yassine on percussion. The New Sounds project was developed by the Aga Khan Music Initiative, a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and presented at the Freer Gallery in 2013.

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Chinese Music for the Lunar New Year

Also called the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year in China marks the traditional start of the agricultural season. It’s also a time to admire the hearty plum blossom, which flowers so early that snow is sometimes still on the ground. Enjoy these performances of music celebrating plum blossoms, lingering snow, and the arrival of springtime. This compilation draws from concerts at the museum featuring Bing Xia on zheng, Yi Zhou on pipa and qin, Miao Yi Min on xiao and dizi, and the Gang-a-Tsui Theater, all recorded live at the National Museum of Asian Art.

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Detail, Benzaiten (Benten), Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889); Japan; Meiji era, ca. 1880s; ink and color on paper; Freer Gallery of Art, F1975.29.4
Photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Music From Japan

Voice of the Biwa:
Junko Tahara Ensemble

Hear the ancient Japanese biwa, a lute related to the Chinese pipa, in a rare performance outside Japan by one of the masters of the instrument. Junko Tahara breathes new life into a style of medieval music made popular by itinerant monks (biwa hoshi) who wandered the countryside singing The Tale of the Heike, one of Japan’s greatest epics. Alongside this classic, she performs transcendent and evocative new music written for biwa with traditional Japanese flutes and dynamic tsuzumi drumming. This concert was presented at the Freer Gallery in 2007 as part of the Music From Japan Festival.

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Hearing the Qur’an in Jakarta

Hear how the recited Qur’an is experienced in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, from the simple chants of daily life and ritual to elaborate renditions in formal worship and national competition festivals. Listen as the esteemed Indonesian reciter Hajjah Maria Ulfah performs the five styles of recitation, with introductions and commentary by music scholar Anne Rasmussen, author of Women, the Recited Qur’an, and Islamic Music in Indonesia. Maria Ulfah is a longtime recitation teacher in Java and a veteran of international competitions as both contestant and judge. This event was recorded in 2016 as part of the Freer and Sackler series Performing Indonesia: Islamic Intersections.

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Photo by Neil Greentree, FSG staff photographer.

Singing Rumi:
The Pejvak Ensemble

Enjoy energetic and contemplative music from this ensemble of Persian music specialists from the East and West Coasts performing traditional and original music with settings of poetry by Rumi and Faraz Minooei. Two members of the ensemble have appeared with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble: Faraz Minooei on santur (hammered dulcimer) and Pezhham Akhavass on tombak (hand drum). Ensemble leader Behfar Bahadoran on tār and setār (lutes) was the top prizewinner in an international competition for musicians in the Iranian diaspora. They are joined by Steve Bloom on percussion and the late vocalist Shohreh Majd. This performance took place in 2010 as part of the museum’s annual celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

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Asian American Jazz Pioneers:
The Far East Side Band

Journey to a unique soundscape that blends contemporary jazz with East Asian instruments and styles, all performed by this path-breaking ensemble of the late 1990s. Composer, and violinist Jason Kao Hwang subsequently earned best-of-the-year listings in Downbeat, Jazz Times, Jazziz, and All About Jazz. His chamber opera, The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown, was named among the top ten recordings of 2005 by Opera News. This early experimental quartet also features multi-percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, jazz tuba artist Joseph Daley, and Sang-Won Park on Korean zithers (kayagum and ajaeng). The notes include essays on Asian American jazz and Jason Hwang’s new introduction. Their performance took place at the Freer Gallery of Art in 1999.

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Left: Detail, https://asia.si.edu/object/F1932.53/
Right: Anton Belov, photo courtesy of Dispeker Artists

Inspired by the Mystics:
Anton Belov, baritone; Albert Kim, piano

Listen to the impact that medieval Persian poet Hafiz exerted on the Romantic movement in Europe through this compelling recital by the Russian-born baritone Anton Belov. He explores German musical settings derived from the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that was in turn inspired by the first translation of Hafiz’s Divan into a Western language in 1813. Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan (1818) combined his own Hafiz-inspired poems with Sufi poems by the Persian mystic. The resulting work inspired Beethoven, Schumann, Wolf, and Brahms and crossed the Atlantic to influence Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. These German works are paired with settings by Russian composers of the Biblical Song of Songs and poems by Azerbaijani writer Mizra Shafi Vazeh and Russian mystic Nikolai Minsky. This performance was recorded in concert in 2015 in conjunction with the exhibition Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy.

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