GR Direct - Sony - Save up to £300 on selected Bravia OLED & LED TVs
Sunday 19 May 2024
 12.5°C   SE Light Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Reviews / ‘Incredible but unquantifiable’ night of music at Mareel

An international feast of music at Mareel. Photo: Alex Garrick-Wright

THE SCOTTISH Ensemble’s reputation for unique, spell-binding and experimental concerts remains untarnished following the resounding success of Continental Drift in Mareel on Friday, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

At the centre of this incredible but unquantifiable performance were French-Iranian musicians (and brothers) Keyvan and Bijan Chemirani, and Greek instrumentalist Sokratis Sinopolous, who threw the weight of their own traditional instruments and sounds behind the Scottish Ensemble’s world-class talent.

Starting off with one of Keyvan and Bijan’s own compositions, 138, the concert was immediately identifiable as something special. The Brothers Chemirani started off on the zarb and saz – a traditional Iranian drum and a type of Middle Eastern lute respectively – with the Ensemble accompanying.

The piece was a fast and lively number, clearly Eastern in sound but with almost Celtic touches. The zarb in particular was a brilliant edition; seemingly even the lightest touch, tap or slide of the fingers across its goatskin surface was enough to create a multitude of distinct and compelling sounds. Keyvan described it as having “a lot of expressivity”, which neatly summed it up.

Soon enough Sokratis joined in with his incredible, intricate playing of the lyra – a Greek instrument that looks and sounds like a fiddle and a lute had a baby, and it was raised by a cello. After an energetic finish, the musicians were received enthusiastically – they had started strong and made a mark on the audience.

“It’s a stunning place here,” Keyvan said. “The journey from the airport – it was incredible. We were like childrens. It was amazing!”

The next piece was another Chemirani original; Duet, which began with only unusual and captivating vocalising, with a great deal of rolling consonants. As the Rs rolled, the brothers both began gently replicating this with a flurry of fingertips on their zarbs; swiftly and seamlessly melding with, then drowning out and taking over from the others.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


With nothing but zarbs on the go, the audience sat enraptured. Soon enough Keyvan and Bijan began taking turns, seemingly trying to outdo each other’s solos in some kind of Duelling Zarbs situation. Eventually the drumming melted back into the vocalising before silence, then raucous applause.

Scottish Ensemble artistic director (and violinist) Jonathan Morton introduced two interesting pieces, the 900-year-old Laus Trinitati written by (‘phenomenal polymath’ Hildegard von Bingen as a vocal piece, transcribed for the Ensemble by double bass player James Manson), the 700-year-old O tu, cara scienca, and Keyvan’s own composition, Indian Way. And, he added they were all going to meld into each other seamlessly.

Laus Trinitati, a slightly foreboding and sad piece, was fascinating – its origins as a song begged the question of what it was about, and what the lyrics were. O tu, cara scienca was far more passionate, kept going by Bijan on a frame drum (which looked like a huge tambourine without the little cymbals).

The best of the bunch was clearly Indian Way, starting with a lyra solo before Keyvan joined in with the mesmerising santoor (a very delicate instrument, sat on a stool, with around 100 strings set in a frame, lightly played with hammers). The santoor lent a mysterious exoticism to the piece, every minute touch of hammer upon string creating an unbelievable melange of tones and sounds. Soon the piece gathered pace, the Ensemble dropping away to allow Keyvan, Bijan and Sokratis to take centre-stage and bewitch the audience.

Ending the first half with energy were some Romanian folk dances by Bartok and a Greek dance called Hasapiko. The Bartok pieces were a mix of the lively and the sombre, but Hasapiko was magnificent. Sokratis dominated the piece with the lyra, swishing the bow across the strings to create a fast, energy-filled number that invited the listener to dance. Everyone was giving it their all as the pace quickened to dizzying, exhausting heights. A brief slow-down gave some respite, before everything returned full force and the dance ended on a wild, explosive note.

The second half was more conventional, somehow. Opening with Francois Couperin’s Les Barricades Mysterieuse on solo harpsichord, it just somehow never reached the levels of the first half’s exotic experimentation; possibly due to the total lack of zarbs and santoor. Ciaconna, with the Ensemble and harpsichord, left Sokratis, Keyvan and Bijan to the side, was one of the highlights. Bold, fluttery and smooth as velvet, Ciaconna was an absolute masterpiece.

Grybbon was another Chemirani piece, given a real backbone by James Manson’s pizzicato upon a magnificent double bass. A strong, multi-layered and quite dramatic composition, which was given real zest by Bijan on some kind of frame drum full of bead, which roared like a thunderstorm under his fingers.

The programme drew to a close with a Whirling Dervish tune, two Purcell pieces (Fantasia and Hornpipe from the Fairy Queen) and a smattering of extracts from Rameau compositions, all underpinned by one persistent note which continued throughout, threading all the pieces together and making it difficult to tell where one ended, and another began.

The result was an intriguing and potent mix of haunting lyra, racing fiddles chased by wild drumming, bursts of exuberance and lulls of melancholy. When it ended the audience went absolutely crazy, whoops and cheers issuing out from the auditorium, only allowing the musicians to make a token effort to leave the stage before having to turn back and submit one more Rameau piece as an encore for a bold, brash finish.

Nobody in the audience will have seen anything quite like Continental Drift before. Nobody in the audience will ever forget it, either. Absolutely fantastic.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.