Episodes:

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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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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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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Two musicians seated on the floor, playing kamanchech (Persian fiddle) and tar (Persian lute)

Photo by Mohammad Kheirkah Zoyari

Masters of Persian Music:
Hossein Alizadeh and Kayhan Kalhor

Two of Iran’s most celebrated soloists joined forces in this performance of Persian classical music recorded at the Freer Gallery in 1997. In solos and duets, they explore the improvisational styles and emotive expressiveness unique to Persian music. Hossein Alizadeh, on the tār (Persian lute), has received two Grammy nominations, recorded more than two dozen CDs, and composed original soundtracks for award-winning feature films. Kayhan Kalhor, on the kamāncheh (Persian fiddle), was a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad ensemble, earned three Grammy nominations, and recorded with the ground-breaking ensemble Brooklyn Rider. Alizadeh and Kalhor are accompanied by Pejman Hadadi on dombak.

(Photo by Mohammad Kheirkah Zoyari)

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detail of a manuscript cover, two bearded men holding two books, halos behind their heads

St. Mark and St. Luke; Right cover of The Washington Manuscript of the Gospels, F1906.298

Byzantine Chant: Advent and Christmas Music from Mt. Sinai

Cappella Romana, a leading Byzantine music ensemble of virtuoso singers from Greece, England, and the United States, performs “Medieval Byzantine Chant: Advent and Christmas from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, Egypt.” This concert was part of the Meyer Concert Series and was presented on November 30, 2006, in conjunction with the Sackler exhibition In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000, and in cooperation with the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai.

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Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856).

Much of the Japanese and Chinese music heard on this podcast evokes some aspect of nature: waves, birds, trees, sunrise, and the seasons. Japanese artists have sometimes depicted the koto (or a related instrument) being played by scholars contemplating the natural world, as in the screen above—an approach incorporated from Chinese tradition. Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856). Japan, Edo period, 19th century. Six-panel screen; ink and light color on paper. Purchase, F1961.1

Music for the Soul:
From East Asia to the Middle East

Relax with gentle yet invigorating music performed by virtuoso artists from Japan, China, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the United States. These diverse concerts were recorded live at the Freer and Sackler Galleries between 2008 and 2019.

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Gao Hong and Issam Rafea perform on the Chinese and Arab lutes on September 14, 2019.

Enjoy these soothing, sophisticated duets on Chinese and Arab lutes by virtuosos of the pipa and ‘ud. Gao Hong and Issam Rafea engage in musical conversations that highlight the expressive magic of instruments that share common roots but are rarely heard together.

Musical Encounters along the Silk Road:
Gao Hong, pipa, and Issam Rafea, ‘ud

Enjoy these soothing, sophisticated duets on Chinese and Arab lutes, improvised by virtuosos Gao Hong on the pipa and Issam Rafea on the ‘ud. Their musical conversations highlight the expressive magic of two instruments that share common roots but are rarely heard together.

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Woman in white jumpsuit sings on theater stage while surrounded by seven seated musicians.

Syrian vocalist Nadia Raies performed songs from the 1942 film Mamnu’ Al Hubb (Love is Forbidden), the 1958 film Ma Lish Gheirak (I Have No One but You), and the 1959 film Irham Hubbi (Have Mercy for My Love) with the Simon Shaheen Ensemble.

Musical Gems of Arab Cinema

Enjoy classic film music from the golden age of Arab cinema, the 1930s to the 1960s. Simon Shaheenperforms on the ‘ud (Arab lute) and violin with Syrian vocalist Nadia Raies, ney (flute) master Bassam Saba, and an ensemble of qanun (Arab zither), violins, cello, and percussion. Recorded live in concert at the Freer|Sackler on June 21, 2018.

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Simon Shaheen performing on the Arab lute.

Enjoy an invigorating blend of music from the worlds of jazz, Latin, and Arab traditions. Joining composer, violinist, and ‘ud (Arab lute) virtuoso Simon Shaheen is a genre-crossing ensemble on ney (Arab flute), qanun (Arab zither), guitar, violin, cello, and percussion. Recorded live in concert at the Freer|Sackler on June 23, 2018.

Arab-Latin-Jazz Fusions: Simon Shaheen and Qantara

Enjoy an invigorating blend of music from the worlds of jazz, Latin, and Arab traditions. Joining composer, violinist, and ‘ud (Arab lute) virtuoso Simon Shaheen is a genre-crossing ensemble on ney (Arab flute), qanun (Arab zither), guitar, violin, cello, and percussion. Recorded live in concert at the Freer|Sackler on June 23, 2018.

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Nowruz Performance

Persian Music: Sahba Motallebi, tār

Sahba Motallebi performs classical and original music for Iranian lutes as part of the Freer|Sackler’s Persian New Year celebration. She is one of the few women worldwide who plays these instruments in major concert halls. Motallebi specializes in Persian classical music, a tradition of virtuoso improvisation based on melodic modes chosen to reflect the mood of the musician and the occasion.

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