Arslan Novrasli: Discovering the Tar at Central Hall Westminster
As Arslan Novrasli fans line up outside Central Hall before his concert on 27th November, a woman in the queue surveys the crowd and remarks that it’s “very cosmopolitan”. The audience is indeed diverse: men wearing jeans stand among women in evening dress. At least a dozen nationalities are represented, whispering excitedly to one another as they take their seats.
Novrasli’s performance, part of the second Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts, is divided into two halves. Part one showcases the tar as an instrument in popular culture, beginning with traditional Azerbaijani folk music (mugham) and continuing through flamenco, jazz and blues.
It’s astonishing how versatile Novrasli is – whether accompanying the poetry of his brother, Tarlan, or the extraordinary singing voice of Nurlan Novrasli, his tar is the heartbeat of every piece. Sometimes it’s used to provide a delicate background for a host of other talented performers, on other occasions Novrasli demands attention with extended solos of great complexity.
In the second half, Novrasli is joined by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra for a selection of classical and popular pieces, including Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s The Lake Beneath the Opera House and Summer from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. One would think that such a majestic orchestra would overpower Novrasli’s humble tar, but the inventive arrangements ensure his distinctive sound is front and centre at all times. It’s a rousing spectacle, with Gurdain Rayatt and Rüstem Mustafa adding colourful flourishes on tabla and violin, respectively.
By the end of the evening, Novrasli has convinced the audience that he can play any musical style he chooses. He has us half-believing that the tar itself is alive, learning and growing with its owner, traversing centuries of musical history to assimilate new cultures, languages and people. Its melodies are Azerbaijani love songs to the rest of the world, telling us who the Azeris are, what they care about and how they live. That the tar is equally at home in an Azerbaijani quartet, an improvisational jazz band and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra is inspiring – a metaphor for the benefits of multiculturalism and diversity, as well as an endorsement of Novrasli’s considerable skill as a musician.
After their third standing ovation, Novrasli and his fellow performers leave the stage and the audience exits into a cold Westminster night. Half of them are humming Lloyd-Webber, half of them Latin tar music. Very cosmopolitan indeed.
The Second Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts runs from November 2014 until March 2015, for further information visit here.
Watch a performance by Arslan at the Buta Festival here: