Mugham Night

Mugham Night

Southwark Cathedral


VIP reception 6:30 in the Garry Weston Library,
Concert 7:30


Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral
London Bridge, London, SE1 9DA
Tel: 020 7367 6700


Mugham ensamble

Soloist: Nurlan Novrasli

Soloist: Jabi Mahmudzadeh

Soloists: Arslan Novrasli / Nurlan Novrasli




Mugham is known as the song of Azerbaijan, and it’s impossible to imagine the country’s culture without this beautiful music. Its sounds are deeply embedded in the heart of Azerbaijan’s heritage and it remains a vibrant part of our creative life in the present day.

Mugham forms part of our national celebrations and rituals, it is the song that immerses every Azeri throughout their lives – it was even said that in Shusha, one of the heartlands of this music and the birthplace of many of the greatest performers, that babies would cry in the style of mugham. Of course, when we started preparing our Buta Festival, we had to make sure we included something of this wonderful music in our program.

I’m delighted to welcome some great performers to our concert tonight. Those of you who were able to come to our festival opening at the start of November will already have heard a little from the talented Novrasli brothers, Nurlan and Arslan, and their colleague Munis Sharifov. That trio is joined by some more stars from Baku – Gulshan Agayeva, Huseyn Huseynov and Vagar Sharifzade. And we’re particularly excited to introduce young Jabi Mahmudzade, a singing prodigy who skills remind us that mugham, above all, is a living tradition that continues to develop and evolve with each passing generation.

Although mugham is a uniquely Azerbaijani art-form, it is also a thread that can draw cultures together. Five years ago, in the first Buta Festival in London, we held a mugham recital in St. Martin-in-the-Fields as part of an extensive program that explored the common ground between Christian and Muslim traditions. Today, in another of London’s great churches, we continue that exploration in the company of Floreat Cantus, a choir specialising in European religious music from the Middle Ages to the present day. Many thanks to them for joining our performance, and to you, our audience, for coming along to share in one of our country’s greatest treasures.



Vocalist Nurlan Novrasli is familiar to London audiences after his performances at the First Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts five years ago. He took part in a memorable evening of jazz-mugham fusion with his brothers Shahin and Arslan, as well as introducing the unique sound of mugham to the capital. He has won several awards, including the top prize in the 2004 TV contest Azeristar and the 2006 Cahan Dala festival in Kazakhstan. His concert engagements have taken him to many countries, appearing throughout Europe and also in Japan.



Tar virtuoso Arslan Novrasli has devoted his career to demonstrating the versatility of his instrument, one of the cornerstones of Azerbaijan’s music.

As a teenager he was a prize-winner at the Mugham 99 festival, exploring the traditional roots of the tar as an integral part of a mugham ensemble. But since then he has broadened his explorations of what the instrument can do, teaming up with his brother Shahin for jazz performances and performing with a symphony orchestra as part of the first Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts in London in 2009-10.



Munis Sharifov is a much-decorated performer on traditional Azerbaijani instruments and is the world’s only professional chagana player. Sharifov is also the director of the Azerbaijan State Ensemble of Ancient Musical Instruments. In the mugham trio assembled for the Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts he plays the kemancha, another string instrument. The kemancha, which derives its name from the Persian word for ‘little bow’ was described by Uzeyir Hajibeyli as the perfect instrument to accompany the human voice. It is also the cornerstone of the classic mugham line-up, along with a vocalist and a tar player.



Vugar Sharidzadeh studied the nagara from his childhood at Baku’s Azizbeyov Palace of Culture. The nagara is a type of paired drum, one high-pitched, one low, usually played with short wooden sticks that bend outwards at the top. After serving in the military in the 1990’s Sharidzadeh began his musical career in 1999 and has gone on to play with many of the biggest stars of the Azerbaijani music scene. He is a regular performer at major events within Azerbaijan and abroad.



Gulshan Agaeva is a leading performer on the qanoon, a zither-like instrument with 26 courses of strings. It is often regarded as one of the most challenging instruments to master, and Gulshan studied for many years at the Asaf Zeynalli Azerbaijan State Music College and Baku Academy of Music. She is now a regular performer in Baku’s most prestigious venues and has also toured internationally, appearing in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, England and Iran.



Guseyn Guseynov was born into a musical family in Baku, where his father was a renowned clarinet player. Initially Huseyn followed in his father’s footsteps, but in 2001 he took up the balaban, a traditional double-reeded wind instrument often heard in Azerbaijani music. From that time onwards he has actively promoted the musical heritage of his homeland both at home and abroad.



Singing prodigy Jabi was born in 2002 in the Agsu region of central Azerbaijan. His vocal talents were recognised at a young age, and in 2011 he started studying at a specialist arts school. In the same year he was awarded a diploma at the 3rd International Children’s Music Festival, and the following year he won a diploma from the festival to mark the 115th anniversary of the famous singer Bul-Bul. In 2013 he took third place in the International Children’s Music Festival. He is currently continuing his studies at the Republican Arts Gymnasium.



Formed in 2009, Floreat Cantus is a group of emerging young singers and choral scholars from leading conservatoires and universities around the UK. Its wide-ranging repertoire is drawn from the 14th century to the present and its flexible forces mean it can provide chamber groups of eight singers or a full-blown 65-voice choir. Challenging old stereotypes about choral singing, Floreat has performed at diverse venues from Southwark Cathedral to Barclays Bank. Earlier this year, the choir led the opening ceremony of The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe. Performing in this festival is certainly one of their most unusual and exciting projects to date. The choir is directed by co-founder Anna Pool, a London-based director, librettist, performer and composer. She has worked in various roles for the Barbican Centre, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Teatro Vivo and National Youth Music Theatre as well as being Artistic Director of the workshOPERA opera company. Anna is currently writing a new children’s opera for English Touring Opera’s 2015/16 season.


Jeffery Werbock’s lecture and performance on mugham

at Pushkin House, London. 28 January 2010.

An Evening of Mugham at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

1st Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts. London. Nov 2009 — Mar 2010



The sound of mugham instantly evokes the hot, sandy shores of the Caspian. With its plaintive vocals and texts of love, loss and longing, it’s almost impossible to hear the strains of this ancient art without conjuring images of traveling merchants relaxing in the Karvansarai.

But this is more than just a colourful piece of local culture. In its richness and complexity this music rivals anything in the Western classical tradition, going far beyond the raucous dances or straightforward lyricism normally associated with folk music. Built around a system of seven modes, each of which evoke a certain emotion or mood, mugham inhabits a sound world as sophisticated and expressive as anything conjured by the diatonic structures of classical music. It is music of great emotional depth and huge rhythmic complexity and despite usually being played by small forces it can often have the dramatic sweep of a cinema score.

The seven modes of mugham — Rast, Shur, Segah, Shushtar, Bayaty-Shiraz, Chahargah and Humayan — each explore distinctive emotional states. Rast, perhaps the most prominent, is associated with courage and excitement and is often heard in music associated with the Novruz festival around the time of the Vernal Equinox. Shur, by contrast, is known for its lyrical, melancholy tones. Unlike western classical music, which relies heavily on harmony to convey its emotional impact, mugham is almost entirely based on melody and rhythm. That transforms the musical palette – while western ears are accustomed to music built around a 12-note scale, mugham explores microtones that allow up to 84 notes within an octave. While initially this can be disconcerting for the first-time listener, it also allows for great expression.

The roots of mugham lie in an era when Islam was the dominant social force in Azerbaijan, and that has a huge impact on the early development of this music. Much of early mugham was devotional music – in its secular form it tended to be used for lullabies – and even today its texts deal as much with the love between god and man as with love between people. Its religious origins also make it a fascinating counterpoint to the devotional music of Christian Europe, something that this performance explores in partnership with the Floreat Cantus choir.

That kind of creative cross-fertilization also chimes with mugham’s past and contemporary forms. Mugham has always been a style of music that has brought together different cultures; its name has links to Arabic, its sound is a refinement of an ancient Persian form and its musical structure carries a strong echo of Indian raga. In modern times it has been adapted into operatic forms, and harnessed to Europop rhythms, broadening and refreshing its audience. Fittingly, then, it was chosen by NASA to form part of a ‘Welcome to Earth’ disc sent into space with the Voyager probes launched in 1977. In September 2013 it was confirmed that Voyager I had travelled more than 12 billion miles to become the first manmade object to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space, taking its mugham with it.

Mugham also finds itself at the forefront of Azerbaijan’s on-going cultural revival. One of the first major cultural projects in the transformation of Baku’s cityscape from dreary post-Soviet concrete into vibrant contemporary design was the Mugam Evi — the House of Mugham. An ambitious structure shaped like a traditional musical instrument, the tar, houses a concert hall and exhibition space devoted to mugham.

Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts

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