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PREVIEW | JUNO Award-Winning Ensemble Constantinople Focuses On The Work Of Dimitrie Cantemir

By Anya Wassenberg on April 15, 2024

Chamber music ensemble Constantinople (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Constantinople (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Constantinople, recent JUNO Award winners, are bringing and unusual program of music by little known Ottoman composer Dimitrie Cantemir to Toronto. The Montreal-based ensemble will be performing at the Aga Khan Museum on April 19.

Cantemir’s music will be performed along with pieces by his contemporaries, such as Marin Marais from France, or Italy’s Antonio Bertali.

Who is Dimitrie Cantemir?

Prince, statesman, and man of letters, Dimitire Cantemir was born in 1673, although there is some dispute about the exact date, and died in Russia in 1723. During his 49 years, he served as vovoide (an elected warlord) of Moldavia, now part of Romania, twice.

While his political exploits had their ups and downs, and ended in his exile to Russia, he was also known for his intellectual abilities. He could speak 11 languages, and wrote several scientific books. His History of the Growth and Decay of Ottoman Empire served as the model for Edward Gibbon’s later Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

He is credited with writing the first Romanian novel in 1705.

When it came to music, he wrote about 40 compositions in the Ottoman style, and some are still performed in Turkey. He also transcribed and published about 350 traditional instrumental pieces in a collection titled “Edvar-i Musiki”. The collection is an invaluable glimpse into Ottoman and Middle Eastern music of the 16th and 17th centuries. A few of his works have been recorded.

The Musicians

Constantinople takes its inspiration from its namesake city, often called a bridge between East and West. The ensemble was founded in 2001 by artistic director, Kiya Tabassian.

Constantinople has recorded 20 albums on various labels, including the recent award-winner, Il Ponte di Leonardo. They’ve created some 60 original works, and toured to 290 cities in 57 countries. Their goal is to create music with a sense of community that encourages cross-cultural collaborations and exchanges.

They perform works that incorporate elements from diverse musical traditions, from medieval Europe to the contemporary world, and from Mediterranean Europe to Eastern traditions and New World Baroque.

Kiya Tabassian is a master of the setar, a type of Persian lute. He emigrated to Canada at the age of 14, and pursued his studies of Persian music even as he studied at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. He has carved out a unique career with an international profile.

Other members of Constantinople include Didem Basar on the kanun (or Turkish zither), who studied and earned her bachelor’s degree in composition at the Istanbul Turkish Music State Conservatory, where she first began to study at the age of 11.

Montrealer Patrick Graham is a percussionist, improviser, composer and instructor. He has studied and performed styles from contemporary Western percussion, the frame drumming traditions of the Mediterranean and Middle-East, South Indian rhythm and Japanese taiko.

Tanya LaPerrière is a graduated violin master of the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, along with McGill University. In addition to Constantinople, she is co-solo violin of Arion orchestra. Iranian-Canadian drummer Hamin Honaria specializes in the Persian hand drums Tombak & Daf.

  • Find more information about the concert, and tickets, [HERE].

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