Thursday January 18, 2024
Alash Ensemble – Tuvan Throat Singers & Instrumentalists – Presidential Chamber Music Series III
Masters of throat singing and traditional insruments from Tuva, a tiny republic in the heart of Inner Asia. The ancient art of throat singing developed among the nomadic herdsmen of this region. Alash remains grounded in this tradition while expanding its musical vocabulary with new ideas from the West. The ensemble is named for the Alash River, which runs through the northwestern region of Tuva. The Alash River has also inspired a couple of Tuvan songs which carry its name.
All members of Alash were trained in traditional Tuvan music since childhood, first learning from their families, and later becoming students of master throat singers. In 1999, as students at Kyzyl Arts College, they formed a group called Changy-Xaya and soon became the resident traditional ensemble on campus. At the same time they learned about western music, practiced on hybrid Tuvan-European instruments, and listened to new trends coming out of America.
Under the guidance of Kongar-ool Ondar (best known to western audiences for his role in the film Genghis Blues), Alash began to forge a new musical identity. They introduced the guitar and sometimes even the Russian bayan (accordion) into their arrangements, alongside their traditional Tuvan instruments. They experimented with new harmonies and song structures. The effect is an intriguing mixture of old and new.
The Presidential Chamber Music Series began 30+ years ago, conceived by Adam Gonzalez, faculty in the NM Tech Music Program under Director Michael Iatauro. The first incarnation was supported by then NM Tech President Dr. Laurence Lattman, with all concerts free to the community, a tradition that continues, and featured The Helios Quartet, of which Adam Gonzalez was the cellist. That group had a variety of members but the two with the longest tenure were principal violinist and concertmaster of the NM Philharmonic, Krzysztof Zimowski, and NM Philharmonic violist Willy Sucre. When Adam Gonzalez left the Southwest, the Helios Quartet stayed together for only a short time, but the baton was picked up by Willy Sucre who curated these chamber music concerts, developing the works to be performed and bringing together mostly NM musicians. These four concerts per year featured classic mainstays in chamber music literature as well as unique and lesser known compositions, often by international and/or South American composers. The program continued to be sponsored by NM Tech President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez, then Dr. Stephen G. Wells and now again with with Dr. Lopez. It was an amazing 25+ years under Willy Sucre, who decided to take a break the year before the pandemic to pursue other musical passions.
The tradition continues with the NM Tech Performing Arts Series collaborating with NM performers and arts organizations to curate interesting and unique programs that feature stellar in-state, regional, national and world chamber ensembles.