“In a certain way the genesis of this record mirrors life”, says Kim Kashkashian. “You can't always make plans, you can't foresee how things work together. Sometimes, important events just come to you, element by element, piece by piece.” Following “Asturiana”, Kashkashian's recital of Spanish and Argentinian songs transcribed for viola and piano, “Neharót” is one of her most personal recorded statements to date. It offers a carefully composed programme that reveals underlying but all the more multi-faceted connections between three contemporary composers from Israel and Armenia. Their five pieces respectively based on traditional laments of the Near East, Armenian chant and Hasidic melody once again emphasise Kashkashian's extraordinary vocal expressiveness and deeply affecting tone. “What we hear in this music touches off resonances below the level of our acquired expeience”, writes Paul Griffiths in his liner notes. “Singing these songs, in a hybrid register that embraces male and female, Kashkashian's viola sings for us all.”
Betty Olivero started work on “Neharót Neharót” in response to the suffering and pain caused by the war in Lebanon in 2006. Olivero's hypnotic lament for viola, accordion, percussion, two string ensembles and tape is a distinctly contemporary piece that draws on allusions to Kurdish and north African songs, traditional oriental music and Monteverdi. The instrument's singing abilities come even more to the fore in Tigran Mansurian's “Three Arias (Sung out the window facing Mount Ararat)” which articulate the Armenian people's longing for the holy mountain beyond the border. “Rava Deravin” by Israeli Eitan Steinberg is based on a setting of a poem by one of the greatest traditional kabbalists. As the composer says, Kashkashian “manages to cry the prayer from within the strings, to murmur the sacred text with no words”.
The first seed for the project appeared when Kashkashian heard Etty Ben-Zaken perform a vocal piece by Israeli composer Eitan Steinberg, the singer’s husband, in Boston. She was so impressed by Ben-Zaken’s combination of singing, recitation and theatrical action that she asked the composer whether a comparably eloquent and emphatic solo part could be transferred to the viola. Steinberg suggested “Rava Deravin” which originally had been conceived for wordless voice and a mixed ensemble. In accordance with Kashkashian’s timbral and coloristic ideas he subsequently transcribed it for the more homogenous sonorities of solo viola and string quartet.
“I met both Steinberg and Betty Olivero through the composer Osvaldo Golijov with whom I had spoken about my interest in music employing the stringed instrument as a human voice”, says Kashkashian. “When Betty Olivero received a commission for a new piece from New York’s cultural center 92nd Street Y she immediately suggested to write something for me. I played a lot of Armenian songs for her. However, she didn’t choose any of these but rather adapted her writing to the general character of my playing while using completely different historical sources. As it finally turned out the first performance took place in Amsterdam with the New York premiere following only one year later.”
The most recent piece on the album is “Three Songs” by Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian with whom Kashkashian has frequently collaborated for many years and whose works she recorded on exemplary ECM productions such as “Hayren” (released in 2003) and “Monodia” (2004). The present recording stems from the Boston world premiere in May 2008. Kashkashian: “Tigran himself has this predilection for song and the spoken word and, when composing, he identifies very closely with the musician he is writing for. But I think this piece epitomises a pure essence of his music, something that emanates from the very soul of his personality and transcends any instrumental character.”