It was a bold move for the Wigmore Hall, in conjunction with the Aga Khan Music Initiative, to throw open its doors this year to the music of the Muslim world, and its three-concert series has been a triumphant success. It has vividly demonstrated that the music of the West has no monopoly on sophistication, and definitively knocked on the head the pernicious colonialist fallacy that while the West has classical music, the rest of the world has to make do with ‘folk’ music.
The first concert showcased the musics of Afghanistan and Hindustan, and the second those of Tajikistan and Azerbaijan, with the third dwelling in China, Syria, and - through some inspired improvisations - a newly-created musical realm spanning everywhere in between.
And this final event was stunning. As Theodore Levin explained in his pre-concert talk, the cultural interchange of the Great Silk Road was still in vigorous life today, with traditional musical forms serving as a compass for new musical explorations. It certainly helped that each of the musicians was the pre-eminent exponent of their art: Wu Man on the pipa lute, plus the ensemble led by the Syrian composer-saxophonist Basel Rajoub comprising frame-drummer Andrea Piccioni, zither-player Feras Charestan, and singer Lynn Adib. The hard-core virtuosity of the traditional pieces was complemented by lovely washes of ensemble sound. Let us hope these brilliant musicians return soon, because - with world events at such a perilous juncture - we need their cultural advocacy.