Music in the Round decamps to Sheffield Cathedral this Thursday (13 November) with Mantra, an intriguing concert in which Iberian Renaissance music merges with the sounds of Indian classical ragas.
Seven highly distinguished musicians, the world-renowned Orlando Consort: countertenor Matthew Venner, tenors Angus Smith, Mark Dobell, baritone Donald Greig, tabla player Kuljit Bhamra, sitar player Jonathan Mayer and singer Shahid Khan are the performers.
So, what’s it all about, you ask?
Well, back in the early 1500s Portuguese missionaries from the then newly-formed Society of Jesus (Jesuits) arrived in Goa on the west coat of India which Portugal had conquered in 1510, a friendly invasion that did not lead to subjugation!
It seems they set out to win the minds, hearts and, ultimately, souls of the people through music. They set up an education programme that featured tuition in plainsong, polyphony, western instruments and formed choirs in many towns and villages.
Traditional Indian instruments were welcomed in church and local tunes were borrowed and re-set with Catholic texts so, in turn, the missionaries learned about eastern music.
Mantra, which was conceived in 2009, sets out re-create this meeting of minds and musical mixing of cultures; not literally, because there is no clear picture of what the music was or how it was performed.
This early 16th century ‘collaboration’, however, provided “a wonderfully liberating excuse to fantasise and indulge our imagination,” the words strongly suggesting that they were uttered by the Orlando Consort’s Angus Smith and known for dreaming up colourful music projects.
Extracting salient sections from Ivan Hewett’s review of Mantra in the Daily Telegraph following its performance in London in 2010 tells you what to expect.
“At that time Jesuit missionaries were doing their best to win the locals to the universal church, and it seems likely that South Indian musical idioms were allowed to colour the sacred chants and polyphonic music imported from Portugal and Spain.
“No-one has the faintest idea what this ‘colouring’ may have sounded like, which at least has the advantage of offering a completely open field for imaginative reconstructions.
“We heard plainchants with ecstatic vocal lines superimposed by (Shahid) Khan, we heard rousing Indian melodies with new Latin words attached and – most intriguing of all – we heard elaborate four-part Iberian polyphony with Indian decorations at the ends of phrases.
“What was striking was how Western orderliness was more and more subverted by Indian joyousness. By the end we were all clapping and waving our hands, while singing a wedding song. I wonder if those Jesuit priests had the same problem?”
Will there be clapping and waving of hands in Sheffield Cathedral on Thursday, or will that be left to the massed choir recruited from across the city for the concert?
The music before it is described as new and old – the new being compositions from some the performers, and the ‘old’ reported to include music by Pedro de Escobar (c1465-c1535) and Francisco Guarrero (1528-99).
Ciyarsa! – or should that be Saude!
Book your tickets now at www.musicintheround.co.uk