The focus of the East-West evening in the Chamber Music Hall of the Berlin Philharmonie is the fertile musical encounter between Europe and Asia, between the Occident and the Orient (which reaches as far as North Africa and leads to further connections).
It begins with Black String, the extraordinary quartet of Korean Yoon Jeong Heo, who plays the geomungo, the six-string Korean zither with a long fretboard which is struck with thin bamboo sticks. Together with Jungsoo Oh on guitar, Aram Lee on the daegeum and yonggeum bamboo flutes, and Min Wang Hwang on the double-headed drum, the janggu, and the wide zither, the ajaeng, they carry the one and a half millennia-long Korean music tradition into free improvisation and modern jazz.
The second ensemble is the NES trio with singer and cellist Nesrine Belmokh, cellist Matthieu Saglio, and percussionist David Gadea. Their mix of jazz, pop, soul and folk, infused with hypnotic, unheard of harmonic and ever present Arabic-Andalusian elements, is a fascinating sound experience. The Franco-Algerian, the Frenchman and the Spaniard met in Valencia, an ethnic and cultural melting pot, and their music is correspondingly polyphonic, multilingual and multi-stylistic – especially since the three come from very different directions: Belmokh has already appeared under conductors such as Lorin Maazel and Daniel Barenboim and with the Cirque du Soleil, Gadea with the flamenco elite, and Saglio as an acclaimed soloist in a range of musical styles.
The star guests of this evening are the perfect bridge between all these provenances: the French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê, whose music has always mediated between East and West, between jazz and Asian folk music, between Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones. And the Moroccan oud and gimbri player Majid Bekkas, who has been turning his country’s Gnawa music into blues and jazz since the 1990s, among others in the Joachim Kühn Trio and Klaus Doldinger’s band Passport.