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Features / Scottish Ensemble collaborates with instrumentalists from Iran and Greece to bring Eastern musical traditions to the isles

Keyvan Chemirani and Scottish Ensemble during rehearsal. Photo:Robert McFadzean

THE Scottish Ensemble will be returning to Mareel on Friday (15 March) for the final concert in their innovative Continental Drift tour, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

Continental Drift sees the world-acclaimed Scottish classical outfit collaborating with renowned instrumentalists from across Europe and the Middle East for a concert that combines Renaissance and Baroque period music with more exotic Iranian and Balkan folk styles and instruments.

“It’s going to be unusual,” said Jonathan Morton, the ensemble’s artist director. “What’s unusual is the combination of the instruments and the types of music. They’re not avant-gardeor weird, it’s just the way we’re putting them together.

“It sounds interesting. I hope it will be interesting!”

Continental Drift, which will also be visiting Edinburgh (10 March), Glasgow (13 March) and Dundee (14 March), looks to be in keeping with the SE’s sterling reputation for innovative and adventurous musical experimentation, with a heavy focus on improvisation and the weaving together of multiple musical styles.

Keyvan Chemirani. Photo: Gilles Abegg

Joining the ensemble for this fascinating concert will be French-Iranian brothers Keyvan and Bijan Chemirani, and Greek multi-instrumentalist Sokratis Sinopoulos.

These three highly talented musicians will be bringing an exotic touch to the SE’s programme, augmenting the traditional violins and cellos with less familiar instruments, such as the zarb (a ‘wonderful’ traditional drum from Iran), the bağlama (a Turkish stringed instrument, similar to a lute) and the lyra (an ‘ancient medieval fiddle’ from Greece, played upright like a cello).

Morton explained that he initially reached out to Keyvan Chemirani to explore the idea of a collaboration; it was Keyvan who suggested bringing his brother Bijan and Sokratis on board. Jonathon described the three as ‘a wonderful mix of discipline and training, but also incredible freedom’:

“We’re going to learn a lot,” he said of the collaboration. “Maybe they will too. We’re sort of all in it together.”

While Sokratis and the Chemirani Brothers will be bringing their unique styles to the table, the Scottish Ensemble will be exploring a wide range of music, from 12thcentury melodies to 14thcentury rhythms, right through to contemporary composition:

“Music is in three main components,” Morton said. “Rhythm, melody and harmony. It’d be good to look at these and take them apart a bit… It’s almost a historical overlook of the development of these three elements.”

The merging of styles and instruments, and the high level of improvisation expected, means that aside from a core concept, what the programme actually entails has not yet been finalised- if it even remains the same from concert to concert.

“It’s hard to say exactly whatit’s going to be like,” he laughed. “[It’ll be] quite informal, a lot of chatting, introducing the musicians and their instruments… I’d be surprised if these instruments have made their way to Shetland. But I might be wrong!”

This will be the first time the Scottish Ensemble has returned to Shetland since their well-received mini-residency in 2016, which featured a swathe of intimate concerts and events throughout the isles.

Morton said that ‘over half’ of the ensemble’s line up for Continental Drift have been to the isles before, but that, given the group’s inclination towards packing a lot to do into visits, they might not find themselves with a chance to take in the sights.

“We’ll make the most of it, but if not, it’ll still be great. We love Shetland,” he said.

Tickets for Continental Drift cost £18 and are available from the Shetland Box Office.