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Musical World Tour concert review

“Orchid Ensemble takes its audience on a musical world tour” – Amit Shertzer, The Justice, Waltham, MA  10/26/04

Orchid Ensemble performed a blend of traditional Chinese, Jewish, Persian, Indian and other international rhythms Wednesday at Slosberg Recital Hall. The performance, which empahasized the mixing of new styles with ancient instruments and cultures, was the first concert in the ensemble”s World Music Series.

“We feel fortunate that we can still learn about music, not only Chinese music,” said Lan Tung, the trio”s leader. The other members of her group, Mei Han and Jonathan Bernard, also expressed an enthusiasm for stretching the limits of Chinese melody into international realms.

Titled Road to Kashgar, their show displayed this mix of traditional and internationalist sentiments. The inspiration for the program was the Silk Road-the legendary trade route of the medieval world. Yet it was also the meeting place and trade oasis for dozens of other cultures, ideas and ways of life, or “the fascinating movement of people,” as Bernard described it.

The repertoire started off with a number of traditional Chinese folk songs, a few of which stretch back a couple thousand of years and whose themes and inspirations range from the fisherman at dawn to marriage in the Han Dynasty to traditional paper lanterns.

Following the traditional melodies was “Yaribon,” an arrangement of a sacred Ashkenazi Jewish song brought by Persian Jews into China in the 10th century. A dark melody with extended notes, “Yaribon” was a moving piece and a prominent example of the fusing of cultures in the Silk Road. Other songs, such as “The Endless Sands of the Taklimakan,” were inspired by exotic locations and emotional moods-deserts, dancing and lovers” rendezvous. The program gave the musicians an opportunity to display their virtuoso capabilities on instruments that are as old as the melodies they played. “Harvest Season,” the closing song of Road to Kashgar, stood out as the musicians collaborated on long, fast musical phrases played with impressive precision.

In addition, the audience had the chance to view traditional musical instruments from up close. Tung played the Erhu, a two-string elongated instrument that rests on the lap and is played with a bow. The Erhu produces a violin-like sound and leads the melodies. Han played the Zheng, an instrument whose history can be traced 2,500 years back. It is a half-tube wooden instrument, with adjustable bridges containing 16, 21 or 25 strings that are plucked with the fingers. Bernard played several percussion instruments, the foremost of which was the Marimba, a wooden keyboard that traces its roots to Africa.

The Orchid Ensemble itself has found a fair share of international success, appearing regularly in concerts across North America, and in world, jazz and folk music festivals. The blending of Asian and Western tastes, as well as the specialized arrangements for the songs, give the Orchid Ensemble both a unique sound and cultural standing.