Sylvie Zakarian on marimba, vocalist Daniela Tosic on tambourine and Neil Grover of the Boston Symphony performing the new arrangement of Avinu Malkeinu

Understanding ‘The Other’ Through Song


BOSTON — On Friday, October 26, the Old South Church was the venue for a novel musical program oriented toward Eastern Europe with two noted local musicians. Titled “Songs of the Other,” the program explored the musical legacy of various peoples as well as their tragic histories.

Sylvie Zakarian

“Songs of the Other,” a concert featuring Belgrade-born mezzo-soprano, Daniela Tosic and Armenian-Bulgarian percussionist Sylvie Zakarian, wove together music from the Armenian, Balkan, Jewish and Roma traditions. Tosic and Zakarian performed virtuosic arrangements of various folk songs and prayers for voice and marimba. Though differing in their place and culture of origin, each song highlighted the experience of “the other.”

At the turn of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire committed the first genocide of the modern era by exterminating an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. The official narrative still denies it was genocide. The Holocaust targeted the Jews, Roma, Poles, homosexuals, the disabled, dissidents, and others. That too, is denied today by some. In the mid 1990s, the many ethnic groups in Yugoslavia all went to war against one another, repeating the horrific pattern of ethnically motivated murder. Today, hateful and xenophobic rhetoric against marginalized groups of people is brewing in countries all around the world, including the United States.

As the artists wrote in the program book, “With this program we hope to present many common elements of our human experience that bind us together.”

They sang of the uncertainty and despair of persecution, but also of the quiet human strength within that endures in the face of great suffering, and great calamity. It was a beautiful, cohesive night of art that reminded us of our shared humanity.

The program featured several songs by Komitas as well as marking the debut performance of Neil Grover’s new arrangement of Avinu Malkeinu ( for voice and marimba), a Jewish prayer. Grover, a percussionist with the Boston Symphony, joined the duo on dumbeg.

Percussionist Sylvie Zakarian and mezzo-soprano Daniela Tosic

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Zakarian is a member of the percussion faculty at the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She went to the Dobri Hristov National School of Arts in Varna, Bulgaria, before studying percussion at the Royal College of Music in London and later the Boston Conservatory. She has performed locally and internationally.

Tosic has performed regularly in the area and has been praised for her “burnished and warm sound” (The Boston Musical Intelligencer). She is a soloist and chamber musician who specializes in early, contemporary, and world music repertories. Her concert appearances include the Utrecht Early Music and the Maastricht Musica Sacra Festivals, Regensburg’s Tage Alter Musik, the Flanders Festivals of Ghent and Brussels, a Banco Republico tour of Colombia, and the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary music; the Frick Collection and Rockefeller University in New York City; Denver’s Newman Performing Arts Center; the Da Camera Society of Los Angeles and festivals in Ottawa and Montreal. Tosic is a founding member of the vocal ensemble Tapestry, winner of the Echo Klassik and Chamber Music America Recording of the Year awards. Most recently she has joined Rumbarroco, a Boston-based Latin-Baroque fusion ensemble.

To see a portion of the concert, visit the link

— Stephany Svorinic


Topics: Concert, Music






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