Click here to download Part III from the Concerto for Santur, Violin, and Orchestra, by Colin Jacobsen and Siamak Aghaei, featuring Colin, Siamak, and The Knights, recorded live at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, for our latest album, the ground beneath our feet.
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The Concerto for Santur, Violin, and Orchestra (2013) is the third result of a friendship and collaboration that go back almost fifteen years to the summer of 2000, when Siamak and I met for the first time at Tanglewood as part of the Silk Road Ensemble. After years of touring together; playing the music of another master Persian musician and friend, Kayhan Kalhor; listening to other musicians in the Silk Road Ensemble share their virtuosity; discovering a shared love of Radiohead; visiting Siamak’s home in Iran; and listening to field recordings that Siamak had made of folk musicians throughout Iran, we became obsessed with one melody from a musician that Siamak had studied with and recorded. This became the backbone of the piece Ascending Bird, which we have performed extensively with the Silk Road Ensemble, Brooklyn Rider, and The Knights.
With the courage gained from that experience, we decided to create another piece for the Silk Road Ensemble, The Wind Will Take Us, in which Siamak created incredible melodic material that he played and sang, and which I orchestrated for the Ensemble. I have long enjoyed the sonority of the santur, the trapezoidally-shaped hammered dulcimer with a history that long precedes our Western classical instruments, and Siamak’s incredible virtuosity on it. Like the piano, one questions whether it is a percussion or melodic instrument - and the answer is probably similar. It’s both. The santur and the violin can be in wonderful dialogue – and with the Concerto, the goal is to integrate that dialogue into the larger orchestral whole in the Western classical tradition of the “party-within-the-party” concerto grosso. Given the current challenges in the diplomatic relations between the US and Iran, Siamak and I met in the middle to work. My teacher and mentor, Vera Beths, and her husband, Anner Bylsma, graciously offered the use of their home in Amsterdam, where Siamak and I improvised, experimented, and dreamed up this piece.
The Concerto was co-commissioned by the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College and by Mela Haklisch. The world premiere took place at the Hopkins Center on October 4, 2013.
- Colin Jacobsen
the ground beneath our feet is a celebration of the concerto grosso, a musical conversation in which two or more instruments are invited to lead a dialogue with the larger whole. A form with its roots in the Baroque period and reaching an apotheosis in the likes of J.S. Bach (1685-1750), represented here by his Violin and Oboe Concerto, the combination of virtuosity and intricate interaction that are hallmarks of the concerto grosso has attracted composers ever since.
The concerto grosso has always been a product of distinct personalities. From Corelli forward, composers wrote music that played to the strengths of their friends, colleagues, and employers. By revisiting this format today, we explore the amalgamation of personalities and perspectives that is The Knights, with individual voices coming to the fore throughout the album. Taking direct inspiration from Bach are Steve Reich’s (1937-) Duet for Two Violins and Strings and Igor Stravinsky's (1882-1971) “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, which was named after the historic estate where this recording took place, seventy-five years later. Following Stravinsky’s masterpiece are two new concerti grossi by members of The Knights, grounded in myriad traditions from East to West: the world premiere of a Concerto for Santur, Violin, and Orchestra by myself (1978-) and Siamak Aghaei (1974-), and …the ground beneath our feet, a final party in which members of the ensemble riff on the repeated bass line of an ancient dance.
- Colin Jacobsen