I Musici and Okto Echo:
An Explosive Combination

East meets West in an impressive musical collaboration

By Luc Archambault

On December 2nd, the I Musici de Montréal chamber orchestra and its conductor, Jean-Marie Zeitouni presented Au-delà des frontières (Beyond the Borders), the first concert in its I Concertini series, part of the Sefarad Festival. A true summit between East and West, the orchestra was joined by the Okto Echo ensemble, specializing in music from the Middle East, under the direction of Katia Makdissi-Warren.

J M Zeitouni

Conductor Jean Marie Zeitouni

The concert started with musical works inspired by the East and guided by western tradition. A piece by José Evangelista, Airs d’Espagne, broke the ice in a spectacular way. Built around fifteen short folkloric Spanish melodies, this work reflects a definite Asiatic influence, with a sway of Indonesian gamelan combined with modal avant-garde music.

Another primordial work was Arvo Pärt’s Orient et Occident. Known for his peculiar style of ‘holy minimalism’, Pärt’s music is airy, dissonant, full of anguish, with a resounding depth. The orchestra was able to interpret this score in a sublime manner.

As to the contribution of Okto Echo, two pieces composed by Madame Makdissi-Warren, were performed by, in addition to the composer, Binnaz Çelik at the kemençe (Turkish three-stringed violin) and Didem Basar, playing the kanun. This Turkish injection brings a great wind of inspiration. Even more so when the singer Leila Gouchi joined the ensemble – a clear and powerful voice, evoking Oum Kalsoum, with her deep registry and her mesmerizing chant.

This orchestra succeeds, year-in year-out, in renewing itself and maintaining a high level of excellence, thus contributing to the city’s high cultural reputation.

When I Musici proposes to tear down the barriers between East and West with sumptuous and tone-rich music, does it concretize its promise? As a Montréal-based musical ensemble, this orchestra succeeds, year-in year-out, in renewing itself and maintaining a high level of excellence, thus contributing to the city’s high cultural reputation.

And the choice to invite the Okto Echo ensemble made us travel out of our comfort zone, out of our traditional musical range. These tonalities, not well known, push us into reveries and melancholy-filled impressions – a total disorientation. A winning combination we’re hoping to see and hear, again and again…

Okto Echo

Okto Echo: Katia Makdissi-Warren, Binnaz Celik, Idem Basar, Leila Gouchi

Only one downside to this concert: the use of the piano during certain pieces from Okto Echo. Here, the peculiar acoustics of this instrument didn’t mix well with Eastern tonalities. This choice is undoubtedly open for discussion: perhaps would it be possible to replace it by an oud or an organ? This minor glitch aside, you should take note in your calendars of every concert from this highly inspired ensemble; it would be a shame to deprive yourselves of the pleasure of attending one of their concerts.

As for I Musici, its forthcoming concerts are:

L’oratorio de Noël (Christmas oratorio) (BWV 248) of JS Bach, on December 18

Within the series I Concertini, Bach et la trompette (Bach and the trumpet), on February 2, 3 and 5

Distant Light, with works from Tchaïkovski, Vasks and Chostakovich, February 24

Gargantua et autres fantaisies (Gargantua and other fantasies), by J. Français, on April 27, 28 and 30

Le bœuf sur le toit (An ox on the roof), with among others works from Prokofiev and Stravinski, on May 18

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Images: courtesy of I Musici

Luc Archambault

Luc Archambault
Writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.

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