January 18, 2016

MUSIC WITHOUT BORDERS: Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra presents Festival of Middle Eastern Music

Global Soundscapes Festival: Notes From the Araxes Basin
February 19-29, 2016
Various venues in Vancouver, North Vancouver & Victoria
(Event details also included below)

This February, Vancouver-based musicians and composers will collaborate with virtuoso soloists from Turkey, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Lebanon and Iran, and visiting Canadian ensembles from Victoria and Montreal, to present traditional, contemporary and intercultural music of the Middle East and Canada. Notes From the Araxes Basin promises to be a great musical adventure, guaranteed to expand horizons and transcend borders.

UPDATE (February 11, 2016): Conductor Artyom Kim (from Uzbekistan) will be unable to attend the Festival due to unexpected and unavoidable circumstances. However, we are pleased to announce that Vancouver’s own Owen Underhill will take his place as guest conductor of the flagship concert on Feb. 27th. Thank you, Maestro Underhill, for your willingness to take this on at such short notice!

The Araxes (or Aras) River starts in Turkey, and flows along the border with Armenia into Azerbaijan, where it continues along another border (with Iran), until it joins the Kura and together they reach the Caspian Sea. As major rivers often are, the Araxes is a boundary marker, but also a roadway, where tributaries, travellers, cultures and ideas meet and are swept along on voyages of discovery. The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra’s annual Global Soundscapes Festival takes similar journeys in musical form. This year’s edition, subtitled Notes From the Araxes Basin, showcases the musical traditions and instruments of the Middle East. Over 10 days of concerts, chamber recitals, educational events and more, the VICO will present an impressive list of special guests:

  • Neva Özgen (kemençe) from Turkey
  • Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk) from Armenia
  • Charbel Rouhana (oud) from Lebanon
  • Didem Basar (qanun) from Iran
  • Emily Carr String Quartet from Victoria
  • Persian-Canadian setar player Kiya Tabassian and his world music/fusion trio Constantinople from Montreal

Also featured will be BC’s own Hossein Behroozinia (barbat), Ramin Bahrami (tombak) and Hamin Honari (tombak & daf), Saina Khaledi (santur), Navid Goldrick (oud) and Niel Golden (tabla).  Featured composers include Ahmed Adnan Saygun (Turkey), Mohammad Taghi Massoudieh (Iran), Vartapet Komitas (Armenia), Artyom Kim (Uzbekistan) as well as Vancouver’s Mark Armanini, Rodney Sharman, Farshid Samandari, John Oliver and Moshe Denburg.

“This is truly music without borders”, says VICO artistic director Mark Armanini. “When all the artists involved are not only virtuoso talents, but also creative, flexible and willing to work hard at communicating across cultural and stylistic differences…what you get is a brilliantly expanded sound palette – so many more colours and rhythmic nuances! – and music that is both rooted in ancient traditions and excitingly fresh to the ear. It’s a really beautiful demonstration of the power of artistic collaboration, and how it can transcend boundaries – cultural, geographical, political, historical.”

Please see below for detailed event information, artist bios and instrument descriptions.

Media contact:
Melanie Thompson
melanie@vi-co.org | 604-376-3418

VICO Artist Header


Hidden Treasures: Traditional & Contemporary Middle Eastern Chamber Music, feat. Emily Carr String Quartet
(1) Feb. 20, 2016 at 8 pm
Open Space Gallery
510 Fort St. (2nd floor), Victoria
(2) Feb. 25, 2016 at 8 pm
Orpheum Annex
839 Seymour St., Vancouver

World premieres by contemporary Middle Eastern & Canadian composers, performed by Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk), Neva Özgen (kemençe) & Navid Goldrick (oud) with Victoria’s acclaimed Emily Carr String Quartet & tabla virtuoso Niel Golden.

Notes From the Araxes Basin:  VICO with Special Guests
Feb. 27, 2016 at 8 pm
The Orpheum Annex
823 Seymour St., Vancouver

The full Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, with conductor Owen Underhill & three virtuoso soloists, perform colourful contemporary compositions from Turkey, Armenia, Iran & Canada, including world premieres of 3 concerti featuring duduk, kemençe & setar.

Passage: Constantinople & Friends
Presented by Caravan World Rhythms
Feb. 28, 2016 at 8 pm
York Theatre
639 Commercial Drive, Vancouver

The Festival’s grand finale: Montreal’s Constantinople ensemble, featuring Kiya Tabassian on setar & vocals, celebrate the release of their latest album (Passage), with guests Charbel Rouhana (oud), Neva Özgen (kemençe), Didem Başar (qanun), Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk) & Hamin Honari (tombak).

Special House Concert: Intimate Sounds of Araxes
Feb. 26, 2016 at 8 pm
The Annex on Blenheim
5590 Blenheim Ave., Vancouver

An exclusive opportunity to meet and interact with the Festival’s international guest soloists, Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk), Neva Özgen (kemençe), Kiya Tabassian (setar) & conductor Artyom Kim. Hear them perform up close & personal, in a uniquely intimate setting.



Musical Mornings in the Gallery:
Classical Chamber Music of the Middle East with Hossein Behroozinia
Feb. 23, 2016 at 10:30 am
Gordon Smith Gallery
2121 Lonsdale Ave, North Vancouver

Kurdish and Persian traditional/folk music, performed by Hossein Behroozinia (barbat), Ramin Bahrami (tombak) & Hamin Honari (tombak & daf)

UBC School of Music Noon-Hour Concert
Feb. 24, 2016 at 12 pm
Roy Barnett Hall
6361 Memorial Road, Vancouver

Traditional music performed by Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk), Neva Özgen (kemençe), Saina Khaledi (santur) & Hamin Honari (tombak & daf)

Music of the Whole World  – FREE Public Educational Presentations
(1) Feb. 19, 2016 at 3:30 pm
Victoria Public Library
3110 Tillicum Road, Victoria
(2) Feb. 24, 2016 at 7 pm
Vancouver Public Library
350 West Georgia St., Vancouver
A dialogue about intercultural music, with live musical demonstrations & special guests:
– in Victoria: Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk), Niel Golden (tabla) & Navid Goldrick (oud)
– in Vancouver: Neva Özgen (kemençe), Saina Khaledi (santur) & Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk)
FESTIVAL TICKETS & INFORMATION: vi-co.org | info@vi-co.org | 604-224-6201



Gevorg Dabaghyan (duduk) is among the most prominent duduk players in the world today. He is famous for his interpretations of the works of Sayat Nova, and his critically-accclaimed performances of traditional Armenian folk music. He received his Master’s degree at the Yerevan State Conservatory, where he now teaches. In addition to performing in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, he is the leader of the Shoghaken Folk Ensemble. This will be his first visit to Vancouver.

Neva Özgen (kemençe) is recognized in her native Turkey as a master musician in the classical Ottoman tradition, carrying on a legacy that can be traced back through her father Ihsan Özgen (also a very influential performer and educator) to one of the great figures of Turkish classical music, Tanburi Cemil Bey. She has performed as a soloist with Anatolia Ensemble, Montreal Tribal Trio, Atlas Ensemble, Nederlands Blazers Ensemble, En Chordais, /Elect.Voices, Shujaat Hussain Khan, Deepak Ram, Peter Murphy, Mich Geber, Kudsi Erguner, Frangiz Ali-Zade, Javanshir Guliev, Theo Loevendi, and Kamran Ince among others. This will be Neva’s first visit to Vancouver.

Members of the VICO have worked with both Gevorg and Neva previously several times at the Atlas Academy, an annual international gathering (hosted by the Atlas Ensemble in Amsterdam) of composers and musicians who are interested in intercultural music and integrating world music traditions with contemporary classical music and jazz. We know that they are both a great talents on their own instruments, and also knowledgeable about a wide range of Middle Eastern musical traditions in addition to contemporary music.

Constantinople is the story of a musical ensemble that chose the journey as its cornerstone—geographical journeys, but also historical, cultural and inner—and, seeking inspiration from all sources, aims for distant horizons. Drawing inspiration from the ancient trailblazing city illuminating East and West, the ensemble, founded in 1998 in Montreal, was conceived as a forum for encounters and cross-fertilization by Kiya and Ziya Tabassian, who grew up in effervescent Teheran. In 2008 the ensemble evolved, welcoming Pierre-Yves Martel to its ranks, a viola da gamba player of improvisational brilliance who was as insatiable and adventurous as the two brothers. Since then, the trio has ceaselessly explored a wide range of musical avenues: from mediaeval manuscripts to contemporary aesthetics, from Mediterranean Europe to the East and New World Baroque. In its research and creation, Constantinople joins forces with other leading figures on the international scene, including singers Françoise Atlan, Savina Yannatou, Rosario La Tremendita, Ghada Shbeir and Irasema Terrazas, the Greek ensemble En Chordais, the polyphonic choir Barbara Furtuna, the Quebec group Vent du Nord, the Afghan rubab virtuoso Homayoun Sakhi, DJ Mercan Dede, and such prominent percussionists as the Istanbul-based Mısırli Ahmet or Israeli Zohar Fresco. Constantinople is regularly invited to international festivals, where it is acclaimed by the public, music professionals and critics alike. It has performed on many of the world’s major stages, including the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence (France), the World Sacred Music Festival of Fez (Morocco), the Festival d’Île de France (Paris), the Onassis Centre (Athens), the Festival de México en el Centro Histórico (Mexico), the Festival de Lanaudière (Quebec), or the MusicFest Vancouver (Canada). Alongside these tours in France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Cyprus, Morocco, Canada, United States and Mexico, Constantinople presents every year a season of creations and revivals in Montreal, the visibility of which continues to grow. Most of its creations have been recorded and broadcast by Radio-Canada, and some have been relayed to European audiences via the European Broadcasting Union. Constantinople has eleven albums to its credit on the ATMA label, and has recently released Early Dreams with ANALEKTA. The ensemble is supported by the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres of Quebec, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Conseil des Arts de Montréal. www.constantinople.ca

NOTE: for performances at Notes From the Araxes Basin, Ziya Tabassian will be replaced by Patrick Graham on tombak & percussion.

The Emily Carr String Quartet has quickly established itself as one of BC’s finest music ensembles, renowned for its passionate and inspiring performances. Formed in 2006 by members of the Victoria Symphony in Victoria BC, the Emily Carr String Quartet has performed in the US, Europe and Asia. They have collaborated with artists such as William Preucil, Jamie Parker, Arthur Rowe, the Alcan Quartet and the Tin Alley Quartet. They have performed for “Music in the Morning” and “Music on Main” concert series in Vancouver, the Ankara Music Festival, Hornby Festival , Victoria Summer Music Festival and the IAMA Canadian Music Showcase in Montreal. The ECSQ has been featured on CBC radio’s “North by Northwest” and their CD “Hidden Treasure” was nominated for the 2012 classical recording of the year at the Western Canadian music awards. Constantly searching for a more diverse concert experience, the ECSQ launched a very successful concert series at the Emily Carr House entitled “Musical Bouquets for Emily”. The concerts featured readings from Emily Carr’s Journal that complimented the music that was being performed. Due to its success, the series was remounted as part of Victoria’s 150 anniversary in the summer of 2012 and again in 2014. The quartet has also participated in residencies at Stanford University and The Banff Centre. The Emily Carr String Quartet is inspired by Emily Carr’s diverse body of artwork. It represents to them not only an artist’s experience of life in Victoria, B.C. but also the spirit of the west coast of Canada. For the honour of bearing Emily Carr’s name, the quartet thanks Emily Carr House, Victoria, BC. www.emilycarrstringquartet.com

Kira Tabassian emigrated from Iran at age 14 with his family to Quebec, bringing with him a background in ancient Persian music (setar and vocals) and the beginnings of a career in Iran. Determined to become a musician, composer and historical torchbearer, he continued his self-taught training in Persian music, meeting frequently with Reza Gassemi and Kayhan Kalhor. At the same time, he studied composition at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal with Gilles Tremblay and Michel Gonneville. After years of professional activities, he co-founded Constantinople with Mike Cole and his brother Ziya in 1998. The ensemble’s aim was to draw upon the musical heritage of mediaeval and Renaissance Europe, Mediterranean and Middle East. Kiya has performed on stages throughout the world, and collaborated on highly eclectic projects as a composer, performer and improviser. These include regular collaborations with Radio-Canada since 1996; an active involvement from 2002 to 2005 in the international MediMuses project researching the history and repertoire of Mediterranean music, and in several publishing and recording initiatives; musical collaborations since 2009 with the Atlas Ensemble (Holland), with the Atlas Academy as a tutor, and on a project linking contemporary music with oral traditions. Numerous musical groups and institutions have called upon his talents as a composer, including the  Nouvel Ensemble Moderne and the Union Européenne de Radio-Télévision. He has also composed music for documentary and feature films, including Jabaroot and Voices of the Unheard. Since September 2005, he has been a member of the Conseil des arts de Montréal (where he was Chairman of the Music Committee for three years). His artistic research and creation receives the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Council des arts et des lettres du Québec.



Daf – a frame drum, traditionally covered with goat skin.  In the hands of a professional it is capable of all kinds of intricate rhythms and a variety of timbres by utilizing finger work, closed and open sounds, slaps, and pitch inflections. It may have metal rings attached to the inside of the rim, which create a jingling sound as the skin is struck.

Duduk – an ancient double-reed woodwind flute, indigenous to Armenia, made of apricot wood. The unflattened reed and cylindrical body produce a sound closer to a clarinet than to more commonly known double-reeds. Also unlike other double reed instruments like the oboe or shawm, the duduk has a very large reed proportional to its size. UNESCO proclaimed the Armenian duduk and its music as a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.

Kemençe – a three-stringed, pear-shaped lute, the main instrument of classical Ottoman (Turkish) music since the 19th century. The name derives from the Persian kamanche, and means merely “small bow”. It typically has three strings and is played with a bow, held upright on the knee of the musician.

Oud – a short necked fretless lute, known throughout the Arabic world, it typically has 5 double courses of strings tuned in intervals of a perfect fourth. It has a full, warm sound and its fretless neck allows for quarter tones and sliding effects. The European Lute derives directly from the Oud; in fact, the word Lute is derived from El Ud (the Ud).

Qanun – a large zither played in much of the Middle East, Central Asia, and southeastern Europe. It has a narrow trapezoidal soundboard. Nylon or PVC strings are stretched over a single bridge poised on fish-skins on one end, attached to tuning pegs at the other end. It is typically played on the lap, by plucking the strings with two tortoise-shell picks, one on each hand.

Santur – Persian hammered dulcimer whose trapezoid body is made of a hard wood such as walnut or rosewood. It has 72 strings, which are strung over two sets of 9 bridges on either side of the instrument. It is strung 4 strings to a note, and has a diatonic range of just over 3 octaves. Played with 2 wooden mallets.

Setar – a member of the lute family, which originated in Persia before the spread of Islam. It originally had three strings; two and a half centuries ago a fourth was added. It is played with index finger of the right hand, and has 25 – 27 moveable frets which are usually made of animal intestines or silk.

Tombak – a goblet drum, considered the principal percussion instrument of Persian music. The tombak is normally positioned diagonally across the torso while the player uses one or more fingers and/or the palm(s) of the hand(s) on the drumhead, often (for a ringing timbre) near the drumhead’s edge. Sometimes tombak players wear metal finger rings for an extra-percussive “click” on the drum’s shell.



The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, founded in 2001, was one of the first concert orchestras in the world devoted specifically to performing new intercultural music on a grand scale. It is currently the only professional ensemble of its kind in Canada. The VICO brings together musicians and composers from many cultural and artistic communities in the Lower Mainland, including Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Indian, Persian (Iranian) and Middle Eastern, Latin and South American, Vietnamese, African, North American and European.

VICO strives to be a fresh and relevant voice in the contemporary music of our city, our province and our country. We build bridges of imagination. We approach diversity as a fascinating challenge and a creative call to action. We make connections, between performers and audiences of all ages and backgrounds, across the Lower Mainland, throughout Canada and the world. We create and perform orchestral music that transcends boundaries: cultural, social, political, geographical.

Since its inaugural performance in 2001, the VICO has commissioned and performed close to 50 new intercultural pieces by respected, ground-breaking Canadian composers such as Elliot Weisgarber, Jin Zhang, Stephen Chatman, Mark Armanini, Farshid Samandari, Trichy Sankaran, Michael O’Neill, John Oliver, Grace Lee, Neil Weisensel, Joseph “Pepe” Danza, Moshe Denburg, Coat Cooke, Ed Henderson, Larry Nickel, Rita Ueda and Niel Golden.

The VICO’s annual activities include festivals and/or standalone concerts, public educational events; professional development workshops for musicians and composers; interactive educational programs for students at the elementary, secondary and college/university level; the creation and distribution of educational materials (video, audio, text) via the web; the creation, development and performance of new Canadian repertoire; outreach and collaboration with other artists and organizations in the contemporary and world music scenes of Vancouver, Canada, Europe and Asia; and more, bringing the innovative art form of large-scale intercultural music to broad audiences.

A 2012 recipient of the City of Vancouver Cultural Harmony Award, the VICO has been described as “the United Nations of music” (CBC Radio) and “music that sounds like Vancouver looks” (Georgia Straight). www.vi-co.org

With thanks to our funders and partners, without whose generous support this Festival would not be possible:


Funder Logos 2015-16 (as of Oct 14)