Karakorum: A Medieval Musical Journey, insightfully narrated by Australian actor David Wenham, was presented at Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday August 4, 2018. Powerful and compelling, it was as promised, an exotic pasticcio by La Camera Delle Lacrime of ancient melodies chants and songs, providing a five star experience in a wondrous collaboration with members of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) and Brandenburg Choir.
O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
And order all things far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go*
Bravo Paul Dyer artistic director of the ABO. for your creative vision and commitment to providing an audience thirsting to better understand the things that unite us all culturally as human beings, with the means to do so through music.
You and your team not only captivated us all with your energy, technical brilliance and sense of purpose, but also painted a perfect picture of how we could be sung into existence through serene delight.
What a wondrously thought-provoking medieval musical journey it was. Performers spoke, sang, danced and played on a pastiche of very appealing rare instruments, providing a memorable evening par excellence. You all deserved the standing ovation.
The audience was entirely mesmerized, as filled with light and shade and glorious tonal colours the players brought an extraordinary assortment of Mongolian melodies, Buddhist hymns, Sufi and Gregorian chants and more together in sublime fashion.
David Wenham dressed in a monk’s habit, eloquently related how during the late Middle Ages Franciscan missionary, William of Rubruck (1220-1293), travelled the famous Silk Road to the Mongolian Court in the east, a three-year round trip journey from Europe twenty years prior to Marco Polo’s journey.
William had previously participated in the crusade of King Louis IX of France to Palestine. It was there he first heard about the Mongols from Friar Andrew of Longjumeau, a Dominican. Intrigued, he decided to undertake a journey into the unknown East, hoping to convert the people he met to Christianity.
The first European to visit the Mongol capital of Karakorum on the Orhon River, he wrote with precision about its traditional culture, many features of which can still be observed today in inner Asia.
Meeting the great Khan was a highlight of his life, and despite that ruler’s fierce reputation, William not only lived to tell the tale but also write it down, presenting his account to France’s King Louis IX on his return, a document which has survived for us to discover today.
A trio of songs began the evening, showcasing the diversity of what was to come. Ay! Dieus/Oh God was a song spread far and wide by an Auvergnat Trouvére, or troubadour, a poet composer who roved the countryside and courts of Europe singing songs of courtly love during the thirteenth century.
Then there was A Melody from the Caucasus, from where William’s party entered the Black Sea in 1253, plus an extract from a Buddhist hymn, of the one hundred and eight names of the warrior Goddess Durga.
Melodic, romantic and introspective at heart, they all captivated hearts and minds.
The great strength of the success of this concert lay in the brilliant artistry of all its performers, including the behind the scenes crew. Those on stage do not succeed without the vision and insight of those who remain hidden.
They included Lighting Designer John Rayment, Michael Costi, who provided the English text, ABO Director Constantine Costi and La Camera Delle Lacrime Director Khai-dong Luong, who brilliantly provided the original concept.
Supreme Master of Ceremonies La Camera Delle Lacrime Music Director Bruno Bonhoure used his amazing ability to adjust both the tone and colour of his own voice to suit the differing songs from east to west being sung.
His was an stellar performance, well-seasoned and professional in every way, his lithe body conveying the great love and passion he has for his chosen pathway in music.
The staging must have taken hours of rehearsal, particularly the splendid interaction between Bruno Bonhoure, narrator David Wenhan and his violinist Mokrane Adlani, whose voice was also tone perfect for chant.
There was a number of standouts among the musicians who were all top draw. Australian Brandenburg Orchestra string players involved were ably led by Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen on period violin, with their leader and artistic director Paul Dyer on the Organ.
Chinese virtuoso Yan Li honoured her cultural traditions in music by taking our understanding of the Erhu to new heights. An exciting traditional Chinese string instrument, it can trace its origins back for more than a thousand years.
Dressed in traditional costume, Yan Li provided a standout experience of great beauty and intensity, adding to the exotic appeal of the music played.
Christophe Tellart produced magical sounds with his fabulous Flutes, a Hurdy-Gurdy and the Cornemuse, a stylish French mouth blown bagpipe originating from the Brourbonnais region of France.
Martin Beuer played the Kamanche, a string instrument whose origins lay in many Middle East and Arabic traditions.
Percussionist Michele Claude, together with the chosen few of the Brandenburg Choir involved, provided solid and underlying support.
Their superb singing, supreme sense of rhythm and very great depth of musical experience shone through.
Music is a great communicator and the audience offered reverence, sitting silently and attentively as the concert ran for one and half hours straight through to ensure continuity.
Their actions reflected they were willingly embracing the previously unknown, enjoying a truly fabulous journey from west to east and back again and when it ended they let loose with acclamation.
J’adored that the main basis for this concert was Chant as it developed in different cultures around the world. Whether Sufi or Gregorian, Chant has the ability to transcend the constraints put onto it by historical events. It is about our inner world, that secret place where we hope to gain a spiritual sensibility unbound by time.
Composed mainly from Latin Biblical texts, Gregorian Chant was named for Pope Gregory (c540 – 604) who became the patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers and evolved through the first generations of Christians as they sought to ‘pray with the help of beauty’.
This concert featured eight scenes of beauteous music. Salve Regina, Avee Regina Caelorum and A solis ortus cardine all Gregorian Chants were presented alongside a stunning Vexilla regis, which is not only a Christian hymn but also a Muslim call to prayer.
Ending on the glorious hymn of Franciscan origin, Veni Veni Emmanuel, brought back happy memories of singing in choir, especially this work whose words always bring me quite undone.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid every strife and quarrel cease
And fill the world with heaven’s peace*
Music does not separate us, it has the power to heal and transform. The ABO deserved its standing ovation for Karakorum; a sublime experience of early music from the medieval Christian, Islamic and Eurasian worlds par excellence.
How wonderful it would be through music as marvelous as this, if were able to achieve harmony with all nations on earth.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018.
*Lyrics, Veni Veni Emmanuel