As part of the festival Montréal en Lumiere, Salle Pierre-Mercure in Quartier Latin welcomed the creative ensemble Constantinople, currently touring the world with 266 concerts in 87 cities and 18  different countries. The ensemble consists of percussionist Ziya Tabassian (Montreal); setar player Kiya Tabassian, darbouka percussionist Misirli Ahmet (Turkey); percussionist Zohar Fresco (Israel); viola da gamba player Pierre-Yves Martel (Montreal), and santour player Amir Amiri.

Ziya Tabassian started playing the tombak (a Persian percussion) at the age of 11. Together with his brother Kiya Tabassian, he co-founded Constantinople in 1998, an ensemble based on the European and Middle Eastern musical traditions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Since it’s founding, Constantinople has released 12 albums and performed world-wide.

Viola da gambist Pierre-Yves Martel has recorded three albums with the Ambiances Magnétiques record label. He is a member of Constantinople and performs with other groups including Les Voix Humaines Viol Consort, Le Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Les Voix Baroques, La Nef and Ensemble Masques.

“You have to lose the rhythm first in order to discover it.” Mısırlı Ahmet is the musician whose technique succeeded in breaking down all barriers and opening up new avenues for an ancient musical instrument, the darbuka, unfolding his talent. He taught himself to play the darbuka when he was seventeen and started his musical career in 1987 in Ankara. He soon moved to France, where he discovered new techniques. He also went to Egypt and worked with the most famous percussionists of that country.

Zohar Fresco was born in Israel to a Jewish family of Turkish origin. At a very early age he started playing percussion, and became a founding member of Bustan Abraham, an
ensemble in which both Arab and Jewish musicians collaborated. Eventually, Zohar developed his own personal and inimitable style in hand drums, Tof Miriam- frame drum, and became a well known and highly respected artist on the international percussion scene.

Amir Amiri was born in Tehran, Iran where much of his youth was spent studying the santur, a 72-string hammer dulcimer that lies at the heart of Persian classical music.He also studied Indian classical music with some of the masters, including Ravi Shankar and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Since his arrival in Canada in 1996, Amiri has worked extensively as a percussionist, composer, musical director and consultant for numerous Canadian dance and theatre companies.

Their music is very visual and vivid, it captures your imagination and transports you to different places all around the world, from the Mediterranean to the Middle East. The musicians have a great amount of joy and respect playing together, and it is captivating to watch them create sounds, harmonies, rhythms, and melodies together.

If you missed them in Montreal, you can still catch them in New York on March 15th, in  Lennoxville on March 28, and in Quebec City on March 30th, after which they are off to France to play at different festivals until the end of summer 2012.

For anyone familiar with Fatih Akin’s documentary Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005), in which a German musician, Alexander Hacke, goes on a journey through contemporary Istanbul to discover the different music scenes and sounds (from traditional classic, to modern underground), Constantinople will be a continuation of that journey, reaching across continents and cultures.


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