The concert began with a rumble of drums, followed by a blare of trumpets and shawms of the sort that must have terrified Vienna when the Ottomans besieged the city in 1683. It ended with a laughing arrangement of Mozarts Rondo alla Turca, written a century later, when the Turks influence had permeated Vienna in the form of strong coffee, fancy dress, such new instruments as the cymbals and triangle, and the Janissary stop on the early piano (a pedal that rang a small bell).
One rarely hears a cross-cultural program as topical, thought-provoking, and entertaining as the exploration of 15th- to 18th-century Turkish and Western music organized by Joel Cohen and Mehmet Ali Sanlikol and presented Friday at Suffolk Universitys Walsh Theater. Cohen heads the Boston Camerata, the distinguished early-music ensemble, and Sanlikol leads Dünya, a Boston-based consort specializing in Turkish music, and the New England Metterhane, a Janissary or military band. From either side of the stage, the ensembles took turns illustrating their cultures music for sacred or public ceremonies, warmongering, and lovemaking.
Every player had his or her flourish, but the stars were the leaders. Sanlikol, who moved to Boston from Turkey in 1993, sang Mosque chants, led the Janissary numbers with his shawm (an ancestor of the oboe), played the flute, and strummed a small lute in a hilarious epic ballad. Cohen, not to be outdone, sang two medieval songs, played the lute, and played Osmin in a brief spoken exchange from Mozarts Abduction From the Seraglio. He also arranged the Mozart Rondo as a rollicking finale.
At first, the traditions seemed worlds apart. Turkish music is characterized by strong rhythms, lots of percussion, and single melodic lines, endlessly repeated and ornamented, with improvised solo riffs. Western music has a simpler melodic line, more orderly harmony, and, sometimes, polyphony (overlapping voices). Over time, however, what one heard seemed aspects of a unity a metaphor, surely, for what the world needs more of. The program needs to be repeated, often and in many places.