Politically, this world is like a sleeping giant: stretching from the Mediterranean to Mongolia, incorporating vast, untapped mineral reserves, and home to a hundred varieties of Islam, it holds the key to all our futures. In musical terms, it could serve as a pointer, too, and this concert at the School of Oriental and African Studies showed where we should look.
As some Britons already are. One of the ensembles tonight was the London Uyghur Music Group, partly Mongolian refugees, and partly Brits relishing the chance to play the Uyghurs' long-necked lute. One could hear both China and north India in their lead singer's robustly cheerful songs. From the Nihavend ensemble, we got floridly melismatic singing from Asuman Sumer, and the most delicate vocal riposte from Ali Ihsan Tunc.
Then we went deeper into the mysterious heart of Asia. After a mistress-pupil duet on the Uzbek dutar by Razia Sultanova and Alyssa Moxley, the richly robed septuagenarian Saparbek Kasmambetov, a Kyrgyz epic reciter, took the stage. Kyrgyzstan's Manas epic is said to last a week, but the 10 minutes here were remarkable enough: a repetitive chant, with gestures, conveying the thrill of combat and the exhilaration of a galloping horse.
Horses also loom large in Kazakh mythology, and Gulzhan Amanzhol, decked out like a princess, evoked flying hooves with her dombra lute. More startlingly, however, she switched to the qobuz. Like the dombra, the qobuz has only two strings but, as it's made of horsehair, its timbral possibilities are huge, and in Amanzhol's hands this shamanic instrument whispered, sang, screeched and roared in the service of an improvised, but beautifully structured, tale. Amplification allowed us to savour every subtlety of the performance. Swapping her magic qobuz for a four-string orchestral version, Amanzhol proceeded to dazzle again, finally adding her own voice to the instrumental sound.
If this extraordinary young Kazakh deserved a concert to herself, so did the young Azerbaijani violinist who followed her. Sabina Rakcheyeva has made her mark as a world-class classical fiddler, but here she performed one of her own compositions on traditional maqam themes. "Has the authority of Vengerov," I scribbled on my pad. And blow me down: she's shortly due to partner Maxim Vengerov at LSO St Luke's.Reuse content