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Carnegie Hall's 'Magic Songs' concert hailed as 'important day' for Kazakhstan

At a press conference at Chelsea’s Gallery Shchukin this morning ahead of tonight's Magic Songs of the Eternal Steppe concert at Carnegie Hall, Askar Buribayav, Vice Minister of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan, pronounced it “a very important day in the life of Kazakhstan.”

A press conference for the "Magic Songs of the Eternal Steppe" concert at Carnegie Hall at Gallery Shchukin.
Jim Bessman

Following a performance by Aigul Kossanova, who sang and played on the traditional long-necked two-string Kazakh dombra lute in full costume, Buribayav said, via a translator, that in bringing “the most outstanding performers representing the best of the best of Kazakhstan’s national music”—namely, its most distinguished Kazakh National Kurmangazy Orchestra of Folk Instruments, the Kazakh National Baikadamov Choir, and renowned operatic soloists—“we think it’s a big historical event in the life of the two countries of Kazakhstan and the United States in the way of our cultural relationship.”

Bigger than Western Europe and bordering Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth largest country. Occupied by nomadic tribes for centuries, it became decidedly Kazakh by the 16th Century, later part of both the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan’s music, Buribayav noted, ranges from the traditional folk music of ancient times to today’s classical music.

“As we all know, the role of culture is impossible to underestimate,” said Buribayav. “In today’s society it is probably one of the most imporant aspects of the dialog [between countries] and that’s why we made such decisions to bring the culture of Kazakhstan and introduce Americans to our culture. I personally think that to learn about different people and nations, the best and shortest way is to learn about culture, and culture helps us understand the soul and spirit of people. That is why we brought such a huge representation of performance, that will be able to introduce Americans to all the variety of cultural possibilities and opportunities that our culture offers.”

It was estimated that unlike the vast Russian population in New York, there are only some 2,000 Kazakhs here, mostly students and workers living here temporarily—plus 200 or so more who are part of the Carnegie Hall entourage--which is presented by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

“Tonight is the most outstanding event, as we brought to introduce you to folk music of Kazakhstan the most important folk orchestra of Kazakhstan,” continued Buribayav. “We have also brought our most recognized stars of Kazakhstan music.”

Here he introduced opera sopranos Nurzhamal Ussenbayeva and Maira Mukhamedkyzy, and baritone Talgat Mussabayev. Also present, besides Kossanova, were vocalist/dombra player Beibit Mussayev and the great Kazakh composer/musician Yedil Khussainov, who plays various ancient Kazakh musical instruments including the zhetygen (a plucked instrument resembling a psaltery), the ocarina-like sazsyrnay, the kamys syrnay (an ancient wind instrument) and the jaw harp-like shankobyz.

As for tonight’s program, Buribayav said that while it was not easy to discuss, he could reassure everyone that it would consist of “masterpieces of folk music,” to be enjoyed along with the traditional Kazakh instrumentation.

The conference closed with another performance, this time from Beibit Mussayev on dombra and vocals. The dombra, Buribayav explained, is considered “the soul of Kazakhstan.”

Askd afterward of the meaning of the Magic Songs of the Eternal Steppe title of the concert, Buribayav said that “magic” referred to the fact that the songs “come from a magical country [that is] very far away” in place and time.

“It’s special music of nomads that is new for American people who understand traditional music, and know about classical music,” he said, adding, “Traditional music shows our soul.”

As for the “eternal steppe,” Buribayav cited the “ancient historic tradition of the Kazakhs” and noted that it had in fact passed down to him through his own father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and another 10 generations, at least.

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