As instrumentalists from the Ensemble NAYA and Barrocade took their places onstage on Sunday June 26th at Wigmore Hall, the period instruments from voila de gamba to theorbo to hammered dulcimer indicated a concert of acoustic veracity. But when Yaniv d’Or joined them onstage, you knew immediately that this was not going to be your traditional Baroque performance.
Tall and arresting in a gold brocaded, sharply cut black captain’s jacket, d’Or immediately commanded attention even before he began to sing.
And when he did being to sing, what a voice. Unlike the narrow crystalline sound common to many countertenors, d’Or possesses a warm, round tone, full of richness and shimmer that descends like a golden curtain upon the ear.
Una voz de oro. A voice of gold. Fitting to his name.
D’Or founded Ensemble NAYA with a strong personal calling: to explore the music of his Sephardic heritage. The Sephardim are descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Large communities settled around the Mediterranean, with some travelling to South America over the centuries, and many live in Israel today. The music, poetry and language of the Sephardim has been preserved and passed down over generations and is a mesmerizing testimony to the beauty of mixed cultural influences.
The Wigmore concert marked the launch of the CD Latino Ladino: Songs of Exile and Passion from Spain and Latin America. D’Or and NAYA joined forces with Barrocade, Israel’s leading Baroque music collective, to explore the overlap and interaction between Spanish, South American and Jewish music. The result of this collaboration goes beyond a mere recording or concert; it is a musical conversation that illustrates the richness of cultural inter-connectivity and exchange at a time when it is desperately needed amidst increasing obsessions with national exclusivity, increasing isolation and re-emphasized borders. The music of Latino Ladino reminds us that beauty comes from blending.
The Wigmore performance swept across a vast range of musical styles, languages and moods. D’Or opened the concert with a haunting setting of Shalom Aleichem, the Hebrew words used in greeting and meaning “peace be upon you”. He then progressed to works in Spanish and Ladino, the language of the Sephardim, which is at its heart a mixture of old Spanish and Hebrew.
D’Or’s expressive voice at times soared over a rich instrumental landscape and at other times interwove seamlessly with intricate solo instrumental lines, giving the entire performance an organic feel. Especially impressive was a song for solo voice and percussive water jug, where the simple household object lent itself to a wild diversity of pitches, colors, and textures.
The ensemble uniformly played with impressive technical agility, creating buoyant yet intense tones. The rendition of “Asturias” from Albéniz’s Suite Española with Eyal Leber on guitar and Jacob Reuven on mandolin was one of the most arresting interpretations of the well-known guitar classic piece that I have ever heard: taut, incredibly poignant, and stunningly virtuosic.
After a rapid-fire delivery of Los Guisados De La Berenjena (a song about eight ways to prepare an aubergine!), d’Or and ensemble effortlessly transported the audience from the miserable London chill to the warm South American streets with a sensual, lilting rendition of Gracias a la Vida by the famous Chilean musician Violetta Parra.
D’Or and the ensemble rewarded the audience’s enthusiastic applause with two well-deserved encores. D’Or explained the musical mirroring between one of the encore pieces, the traditional Ladino Adio Querida, and the opera standard-bearer “Addio del passato“ from Verdi’s La Traviata, which are undeniable similar both in melody and in nostalgic feeling.
In an intimate seated presentation, D’Or dedicated the very last song, Noces Noces, to his mother, who sang the melody to him as a small child. His voice glided through the melismatic passages as easily as a flowing stream.
A mother whispering melodies in the ear of her son, the passing down of song from one generation to the next over the centuries, has preserved not only musical traditions but also an expression of Sephardic identity-an identity that, thankfully for all, D’Or has sought to explore and shared with the world through his collaborative performances.