A Norwegian Christmas: Organ and Voice, Part 2

Program: #09-51   Air Date: Dec 14, 2009

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More sacred works from the Nordic Voices and organ performances from The Norwegian Folk Museum (1723 organ) and the recent French-baroque organ constructed in the Ål Church in Hallingdal.

NOTE: Sacred motets performed by the ensemble Nordic Voices are interspersed with organ works by Buxtehude, de Grigny, Bach, and others, from performances by Terje Winge and Bjørn Boysen (plus the neo-mystical project "Siwan").

These programs are made possible in part by support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. For more information about Norwegian cultural events in the United States or for travel and tourist information, you may consult:

I. Reges terrae: Music from the Time of Charles V (Nordic Voices) Chandos CD CHSA 5050.

For more information about this six-voice Norwegian a capella ensemble:


--PIERRE de MANCHICOURT (c.1510-1564): Reges terrae ("The kings of the earth assembled")

--PIERRE de MANCHICOURT: O Virgo virginum ("O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?")

--PIERRE de MANCHICOURT: Missa "Reges terrae": Agnus Dei

II. Nicolas de Grigny/Johann Sebastian Bach: The Kaliff & Löthmann Organ in Ål (Terje Winge, organ) Simax CD PSC 1242.

For more information:


--NICOLAS de GRIGNY (1672-1703): Ave maris stella

--NICOLAS de GRIGNY: A solis horus cardine

III. Siwan

NOTE: There have been so many request for information concerning this remarkable recording, we are providing complete details (from the liner notes):

In Autumn 2006, Jon Balke was commissioned to present a project for the 15th anniversary of Oslo club Cosmopolite. He decided to invite Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui into a context of baroque and improvised music, proposing a blend of three cultures. Initially a pure sound fantasy, this idea proved to have a deeper foundation.

Gharnati music, the heritage of Amina Alaoui, is music from the Al-Andalus period of Muslim Iberia (730 to 1492). This is a fascinating blend of Arabic and European music and poetry, which is very poorly documented in European music history. Being a musicologist herself, Alaoui has written a number of articles on the subject. Other historians, like Chris Lowney or Maria Rosa Menocal, point to lines of development from Al-Andalus to pre-renaissance Europe in almost all fields of human cultures and science, both via direct communication between intellectuals and scribes, but also through various cultural contacts in trade connections with Italy and France. In the musical field, it is fascinating to see that the practices of the baroque and Gharnati musicians share a similar balance between improvisations and composition.

The lyrics for this production are based on the writings of the poets of Al-Andalus, like Al-Rusafi, Al-Mu'tamid Ibn Abbad, Al-Homai'di etc., as well as related writers and thinkers including San Juan de la Cruz, Al-Hallaj, Lope de Vega etc. The title Siwan means in balance, or equilibrium, in a mixed language called Aljamiado, spoken under the Inquisition in Spain.

Jon Balke
Amina Alaoui/Jon Hassell/ Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche
Amina Alaoui: vocal
Jon Hassell: trumpet, electronics
Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche: violin
Jon Balke: keyboards, conductor
Helge Norbakken: percussion
Pedram Khavar Zamini: zarb
Barokksolistene (Baroque Soloists):
Bjarte Eike: violin, leader / Per Buhre: violin / Peter Spissky: violin / Anna Ivanovna Sundin: violin / Milo? Valent: violin, viola / Rastko Roknic: viola / Joel Sundin: viola / Tom Pitt: cello / Kate Hearne: cello, recorder / Mattias Frostensson: bass / Andreas Arend: theorboe, archlute / Hans Knut Sveen: harpsichord, clavichord

ECM CD: B0013007-02
“I’m particularly pleased with the outcome and scope of the Siwan recording, an inspired meeting between musicians of the north and the south, a creative coming together of cultures. The potential of Jon Balke’s ideas and arrangements is, I believe, optimally realized in the architecture of the mix, which contrasts and finely balances very different yet strikingly compatible talents. Amongst them, Amina Alaoui, her voice conveying some remarkable poetic texts, the subtly powerful violinist Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche, Bjarte Eike’s twelve baroque soloists with strings and lute and harpsichord, master hand-drummer Pedram Khavar Zamini, and Jon Hassell, whose musical biography has long addressed the synthesizing of traditions.
In time, this music will be persuasively presented in concerts around the world, yet the recording itself, as the very first reference, is an unrepeatable event, of freshness and clarity, documenting the process of discovery.” --Manfred Eicher

A powerful and magnetic album, and a reimagining of an epoch – and a project whose evolution was triggered, Jon Balke says, by “a simple, intuitive observation of the similarities of two beautiful traditions and soundscapes”. In the extraordinary voice and melodic inventiveness of Amina Alaoui, Balke heard correspondences with the “glittering universe” of early music, as explored by Bjarte Eike’s Barokksolistene.

 Over the course of bringing these soundworlds together, Balke’s Siwan has developed into something broader yet, “a wide landscape of aspects touching European musical and political history, poetry from Al-Andalus, contemporary politics and human cross-cultural inter-relations”.

 Signifying “balance or equilibrium” in Aljamiado (a Latin-Arabic hybrid language deployed in medieval Andalusia), Siwan creatively speculates on what was lost to the bonfires of the Inquisition. Andalus was a beacon of learning in the so-called Dark Ages, and unique in the degree of exchange between Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars. As Balke points out, there are striking correspondences in the writings of the Sufi poets and the Catholic and Sephardic mystics, clearly evident in the sung texts here which range from words of the martyred Al-Hallaj (”Thulathiayat”) to St John of the Cross’s ecstatic “Toda ciencia trascendiendo”.

 Andalusian classical music was allegedly born in the court of Cordoba in the 9th century, and Moorish Spain was a center from which musical idioms and instruments travelled. The notion of music and ideas radiating from a spiritual-geographical nexus is explored by Jon Balke, Amina Alaoui and friends, outlining, in contemporary spirit, a common denominator for Andalusian music, early Baroque music and jazz: three idioms distinguished by flexibility, openness to interpretation and improvisation, each with a great richness of forms and variations.

 Initiated by Balke, with Alaoui and violinist Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche as contributors from the outset, and with Jon Hassell, himself a distinguished synthesizer of traditions, as guest soloist, the music for Siwan was written in response to a commission from Cosmopolite, Oslo’s multicultural stage. Long one of the most sensitive composer-arrangers for large ensemble, Balke has excelled himself with Siwan, creating a form with open spaces in which very different soloists can express themselves, co-exist, collaborate...
The album was recorded between September 2007 and May 2008, with Manfred Eicher producing. Since the recording, the Siwan ensemble has performed in Bergen, Stavanger and Cairo.

 Norwegian pianist Jon Balke first appeared on ECM in 1974. From a background in jazz and ‘world music’, he has gone on to compose for theater and dance performances as well as major works for chamber groups and sinfoniettas. He leads the Magnetic North Orchestra, whose albums include Further, Kyanos and Diverted Travels, was the initiator of the Batagraf project, has recorded solo for ECM (Book of Velocities) and also produced African drummer Miki N’Doye for the label.
Amina Alaoui is a virtuoso singer, born in Fez and originally schooled in the Moroccan Gharnati tradition, who continues to research connections between Fado, Flamenco and the music of Al-Andalus.  In Siwan much of the music was originally composed to Spanish translations of the poetry. Alaoui helped to reshape the material around original Arabic versions, which she sings with great authority.  

Memphis-born trumpeter Jon Hassell’s path from studies with Stockhausen to Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath to the sphere of New York minimalism led him to shape what he called ‘fourth world’ - a music without borders between classical and popular, sacred and sensual, which has filtered into nearly all areas of contemporary music. His landmark ECM album Power Spot was an early highpoint. His recent album, Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street reminded many of how influential his liquid trumpet sound has become.

Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche is a virtuoso violinist from Algeria. Based in the tradition of Arab-Andalusian music he has developed his own voice in collaborations with Amina Alaoui, Barrio Chino, and lately also with Cheb Khaled and Jon Hassell.

Bjarte Eike is a young veteran of early music. After studies in Bergen and London, he quickly established himself as a leading violinist on Copenhagen’s early music scene. A member of Balke’s Magnetic North, he formed his Barokksolistene in 2005.

Pedram Khavar Zamini, from Tehran, combines traditional tombak (zarb) drumming with his own modern patterns and is considered one of the most exceptional exponents of Persian classical music.

Norwegian percussionist Helge Norbakken has played in the groups of Mari Boine, Maria Joao, and numerous other international artists. His percussion draws influences from diverse world traditions and jazz – as can be heard in his work with Magnetic North, Batagraf and Siwan.

German lutenist Andreas Arend studied with Nigel North and is well-known as a flexible virtuoso player, performing in a range of leading groups in baroque and renaissance music.

Bjarte Eike’s Barokksolistene (Baroque soloists) is a highly-regarded constellation of top players in the European early music scene. Members Tom Pitt and Peter Spissky – who with Eike have performed as Baroque Fever- have already recorded for ECM with Magnetic North, and Milo? Valent has appeared on ECM New Series with John Potter’s Dowland Project (Romaria) and Iva Bittová (Mater).

Composer Info

PIERRE de MANCHICOURT (c.1510-1564), NICOLAS de GRIGNY (1672-1703)

CD Info

CD CHSA 5050; CD PSC 1242; D: B0013007-02

Note: The contact information in this episode may be out-of-date. You can contact us at this current link.