The other night we caught the Gurdjieff Ensemble at the beautiful Gulbenkian Auditorium in Lisbon. They play Armenian folk instruments, eight or nine of them, with names like duduk, blul, kamancha, oud, santur, and so on--the long-necked ukulele, the tabletop cello, the laptop vibraphone. So what we have, then, is Armenian musicians in an ensemble named after an Armenian philosopher-mystic, playing Armenian folk music, in a hall built by a Foundation created by the philanthropy of an Armenian businessman.
In their hands, fingers, mouths and bodies, folk music, which they don't jazz or pop or otherwise contemporize, is the breath of a people. The act of forming this ensemble, and playing and patronizing this music, is an act of preservation of the music itself, the instruments used to play it, and the land and people it comes from.
You counter-culture types will remember that Gurdjieff's Meetings With Remarkable Men
was required reading--at least required claim-to-have-been-read--4 or 5 decades ago. One of his remarkable men was the young businessman named Gulbenkian, who by the time he died in 1955 had become (thanks, petroleum) one of the world's wealthiest men. The fact that his Foundation, largely centered in Lisbon, had now hosted this folk music ensemble named after his mentor, and that, from the ensemble's perspective, they had brought their music to the home of their namesake's honoured friend--well, that had a lot of resonance the other night. Both audience and musicians seemed deeply moved.
For the occupant of seat C-3, the authenticity of the music was highly respectable but not that entertaining as a concert experience. That is, the haunting melody played so convincingly on the dap was quite a lot like the haunting melody played convincingly on the dhol. Still, I must say that I admire these artists and their benefactor more than a fumbling blog entry can express, for their dedication to life, land, and music.