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Popularity of Mongolia

Stanford festival explores Mongolia's music

Popularity of Mongolia, I like 49%


While growing up in Beijing, Jindong Cai remembers hearing exotic music from the distant northern provinces, haunting sounds that stayed in the back of his mind for decades.


Last summer, Cai, Stanford's Gretchen B. Kimball Director of Orchestral Studies, finally traced the music back its source, taking a 10-day trip to Mongolia with his wife, journalist Sheila Melvin. They discovered a vast, sparsely populated nation in the midst of self-discovery, a serpentine process of building a modern identity out of the wreckage of Stalinist repression and a distant, epic history of world conquest.


"I've been thinking about going to Mongolia for a long time," says Cai by phone from his Stanford office. "I knew some of the music from growing up, and it's always stayed with me. The Mongols ruled most of the world for a period, including China for almost 100 years under Kublai Khan. It was a huge empire, unbelievably huge, all the way to Hungary and Poland."


The Seventh Annual Stanford Pan-Asian Music Festival, which opens Friday at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, encompasses the ancient and modern story of Mongolia with a series of concerts, pre-performance discussions, symposia and lectures. Friday's program, "Melodies From the Grasslands: Traditional Mongolian Music," features throat-singer Nanjid Sengedorj with horse-head fiddle virtuoso Urtaa Gantulga. It also includes Boerte, an accomplished seven-piece Mongolian band that plays a singular synthesis of jazz and folkloric Central Asian styles on traditional Mongolian instruments (including the horse-head fiddle, or morin khuur).


No instrument better captures Mongolia's ongoing struggle to reclaim its past than the horse-head fiddle. Over the centuries when the nomadic people ruled the steppe, no yurt was complete without the instrument hanging on a felt-covered wall. In the horse-centric culture, the morin khuur was often used to evoke galloping hooves. Writing in the New York Times from Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, Melvin detailed how in the years since the country's transition to democracy in 1990, the instrument has played a central role in Mongolia's cultural recovery from Russian domination.


"The horse-head fiddle is a soul instrument for Mongolia families," Cai says. "It has two strings, but made out of hundreds of horse hairs. It's a very fascinating instrument, but during the Soviet period they weren't allowed to continue developing it. Since 1990, it's been reborn."


The Soviets didn't merely repress Mongolia's distinctive traditions. They sought to spread European culture, and three generations of Mongolian musicians received classical conservatory educations, often in Russia. Saturday's program at Dinkelspiel, "From the Grasslands to the Steppes," explores that enduring influence. Conducted by Cai, the Stanford Symphony Orchestra will interpret Borodin's enduringly popular "On the Steppes of Central Asia" and guest composer Byambasuren Sharav's "Concerto for Morin Khuur and Orchestra," and Suite No. 2 from the ballet "Zuurdiin Oron," featuring pianist Juliann Ma, winner of the 2010 Stanford Concerto Competition, and soloist Gantulga.




By Andrew Gilbert




Source: www.mercurynews.com


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