UCSB Middle East Ensemble Music and Dance

By Robert Bernstein

The UCSB Middle East Ensemble offers a wonderful performance near the end of each UCSB quarter at a bargain price! Here are my photos and videos of their Winter 2018 performance this past weekend.

Director Scott Marcus is the founder of the Middle East Ensemble as well as teaching music at UCSB. Here he is giving introductions and explanations at the microphone

And there is much to explain. Many of the instruments are unknown to Western musicians. Some of the pieces are played on a scale that is impossible for instruments that are tied to the Western twelve-tone scale. The piano and any string instrument with frets is disqualified. The musicians need to be able to play some notes that fall in between the notes we know in the West.

The Middle East Ensemble welcomes and includes a wide range of cultures and music. At this recent performance we heard Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Sephardic (Jewish music in an old version of Spanish).

We sat near my friend Vandana who is from India. I asked if some of the music sounds Indian to her as it does to me. She explained that indeed much of the music of India is exactly the same, having been brought by invaders from the Middle East into India centuries ago.

Approximately fifty performers were on the stage, often all at the same time. The sound engineering alone was quite a feat, with more than one microphone needed for some of the performers!

Percussion Director Susan Rudnicki has an extraordinary challenge to deal with rhythms far more complex than we have in most Western music. She holds the red drum at right in this photo

There were many featured artists that evening. Siamak Bozorgi (center in photo below) starred on vocals and on setar

Natalie Bartlett sang solo a Turkish song.

Some of the most popular moments of the evening were the dance performances, expertly choreographed by Cris! Basimah, who also performed in several of them. (Note that the “!” is officially part of her name)

Cris! is in the center in this Persian dance photo

Here is a video of this dance

Simone Temkin-Wilcox (with red veil) debuted in this Veil Dance


The Grand Finale of the evening was the hugely popular Cabaret Belly Dance with Cris! Basimah, Simone Temkin-Wilcox, Megya Tao and Madeleine Winterich

Following that dance, the performers gathered on stage for thunderous applause

I should also note that there were two birthdays among the performers. One was turning nine and the other was turning 88!

Mark your calendar for the next performance of the UCSB Middle East Ensemble on June 2, 2018!
Here http://www.music.ucsb.edu/mee/ is more information!

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