TEAS brings Azerbaijani Mugham to London's South Bank

Press Release: On 18 May, the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, located at the epicentre of London’s cultural life on the South Bank, resounded to the meditative and passionate sound of Azerbaijani mugham. The concert was sponsored by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS). Following an introduction by Lucy Duran, presenter of the BBC Radio 3 programme World Routes, Gochag Askarov and his Ensemble of accomplished musicians performed a wide range of evocative traditional compositions, including Dastgah Bayati Shiraz, an extended piece, and Mahur Mugham, with which Gochag previously achieved first prize at the Samarqand Festival in Uzbekistan in 2009. They also played some shorter vocal rhythmical pieces, known as Tasnifs, and an instrumental composition in brio (virtuoso) style, in front of the attentive multinational audience of around 120 people.

Having performed to wide acclaim at the WOMAD Festivals in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, vocalist Gochag Askarov has cut several CDs and appeared in the TEAS-produced awardwinning film The Mystical Music of Mugham Comes to Montana. He is renowned as one of the foremost living exponents of classical mugham, with a voice of unmatched purity and passion.

Azerbaijani mugham is a highly complex art form that combines classical poetry with musical improvisation. Mugham is performed according to a modal system although, unlike Western modes, the mugham modes are associated both with scales and an orally-transmitted collection of melodies and melodic fragments that performers use during their improvisations. The dramatic unfolding of the composition is typically associated with increasing intensity and rising pitches, and a form of poetic-musical communication develops between performers and initiated listeners.

Three major schools of mugham performance developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, emanating from the regions of Karabakh, Shirvan, and Baku. In particular, the town of Shusha in the Karabakh region was renowned for the quality of its instrumentalists, singers and composers. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognised mugham as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.