'This is distinctive, pungent music that demands close attention' Guardian 2005


The Rosegarden of Light

TOCC 0342 (2016)

RADIO 3 Record Review August 2016

Following the great success of The Rosegarden of Light European Tour this May-June, the related CD TOCC0342 (featuring music by Sadie Harrison, traditional music from the students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and arrangements of popular Afghan songs by Kevin Bishop) continues to receive excellent press. The latest review was on BBC Radio 3’s Record Review (Saturday 30th July), which described Harrison’s music and the collaboration with ANIM as ‘moving and intriguing’.

MusicWeb International August 2016

The Rosegarden of Light disc - just released - has a strong Afghani flavour which most Western listeners will recognise as a distinctive reflection of Middle-East manners and methods. The music consists of traditional Afghan pieces, original compositions by Harrison and arrangements by Kevin Bishop. Arghawan is a dance that showcases a plectrum-driven instrument, bouzouki-like in sound, with traditional ensemble. Dast be Dast is for solo viola and is hushed yet animated. Its sound may prompt memories of Holst's Four Songs for voice and solo violin. Sadie Harrison's engaging Gulistan-e Nur: The Rosegarden of Light (2015) is laid out in three pairs of Interlude and Movement, each founded on Afghan material. The music, often mysterious and husky, feels at various junctures like a Round, delightfully pointed dances that are fast pulsing and reflective islands. It often rejoices in subtle shadings and the finest thrusts and delicate slashes of a keenly-honed audio scalpel. The final piece has a touch of Steve Reich about it. Ay Shakhe Gul, as arranged in Westernised style by Kevin Bishop, is easy to assimilate. It has about it something of Alan Hovhaness and his gift for evoking angelic celestial dancing. The last three tracks involve two that are intriguingly traditional in sound but the central one Pesta Faros, again skilfully arranged by Kevin Bishop is very Westernised. The disc might present cataloguing difficulties in that it seems to move effortlessly between what I take to be authentic World Music and a 'classical' take on traditional Afghan material.

Dean Frey: Music for Several Instruments Blogspot May 10, 2016

A remarkable, life-affirming collaboration

Sadie Harrison is a composer of considerable stature, with a significant oeuvre that shows variety, depth and originality. She has been engaged in two additional professions which enhance her music. She's a professional gardener, which gives her insights into the natural world and organic processes, and also an archaeologist, which opens windows into other cultures and to the past. The Rosegarden of Light Project is a fascinating partnership with Cuatro Puntos (with whom Harrison is working closely, as composer in residence), a chamber music collective dedicated to global cooperation and peace, and student ensembles of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (including the girls' Ensemble Zohra and the Junior Ensemble of Traditional Afghan Instruments).

The combination of Harrison's special writing for strings, full of deceptively simple, open tunes and intricate rhythms and harmonies, and the joyful traditional Afghan music with its delightful sound palette gives this music an uplifting feeling. You can play clips from each track at the Toccata Classics website, and get a hint of this highly successful cross-cultural project. It makes one at least a tiny bit optimistic that music can indeed change lives, even for young people looking for life and joy against such high odds.

Review in The Fine Times: FANNY CHARLES

The Rosegarden of Light, Silk Mill in Frome and touring

WHAT kind of world do we live in where making music is an act of defiance? What kind of country is it where it requires huge courage for girls to learn to play instruments? What kind of god asks its adherents to smash exquisite traditional instruments and bans the making of music or even singing as you work in the fields?

Video film of the smiles and concentration on the faces of Afghan girls playing music with Afghan and American teachers says more about the plight of ordinary people under a regime of brutal fanatics than any Mad Max images of gun-waving fighters on armoured vehicles racing across the desert amid clouds of swirling sand. The three-part film of Ensemble Zohra was shown as interludes between performances of The Rosegarden of Light (Gulistan-e Nur), to a small but captivated audience at the Silk Mill in Frome, part of an international tour that also visits Shafesbury before heading for Berlin and The Hague.

The Rosegarden of Light is the title of a work by the Shaftesbury-based composer Sadie Harrison. It is also a project that involves Sadie , the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM) and the American string sextet Cuatro Puntos (Four Corners), a non-profit ensemble dedicated to global cooperation and peace through writing, performing and teaching music. The girls in the film are students at ANIM, which was founded by Dr Ahmed Sarmast, whose father Ustad Salim Sarmast was one of Afghanistan’s finest and most popular composers. The concert includes Ustad Sarmast’s O Flower Branch (Ay Shakha Gul), a setting of a ghazal by the Iranian poet Mohammad Hoseyn Shariar, with swirling, sentimental melodies that are poignant reminders of a time when music filled the airwaves and the streets of Kabul.

Music, poetry and the creation of gardens flourished in Afghanistan throughout the centuries, as they did in neighbouring Persia/Iran. It was only with the rise of the puritanical Taliban that the enjoyment of beauty in all its forms – as part of a deeply religious culture – was stamped on. Instruments were smashed, music disappeared from radio, television and the streets, even from people’s homes. The lives of women – always hard and constrained by rigid codes of morality – became almost unendurable, with bans on education, music, colourful clothes and most forms of socialising.

After the removal of the Taliban government, and the return of a fragile freedom, Dr Sarmast founded ANIM in 2009. The organisation works particularly with street children and trains teachers to take their skills and music to other parts of the country. A film made over several years, shown at The Rosegarden of Light evening, features Waheed, a child who scratches a pittance selling plastic carrier bags to shoppers, and has learned to play the piano. Rosegarden composer Sadie Harrison wrote a piece for him called A Gift of Music – his smile as he plays is heart-breaking and uplifting. Waheed also plays the harmonium and the sitar.

On 11th December 2014, Dr Sarmast and a group of young musicians from ANIM were performing at the Istiqlal School at the French Cultural Centre in Kabul. A suicide bomber attacked the venue and Dr Sarmast was seriously injured. Undeterred, he continues with his work, supported by brave Afghan teachers and by visiting musicians, including viola player Kevin Bishop and bassist Holly Bishop of Cuatro Puntos. They are helping to revive Afghanistan’s traditional music and to teach western music. Waheed’s favourite composer is Chopin, and Sadie’s gift is a nod to the Polish master of the piano.

Sadie Harrison worked as an archaeologist before she became a composer and her knowledge and understanding of the past informs much of her music. The Rosegarden programme also includes her solo viola piece, Allah hu (This is God), part of a longer work, Dast be Dast (Hand to Hand in Friendship) which was first performed in Kabul by Kevin Bishop, rubab player Samim Zafar and Madhurijya Barthakur on tabla. The piece was commissioned by Kevin and was Sadie’s first for Cuatro Puntos and ANIM.

Other works in the programme are Nai Concertino, by the Iraqi composer Mohammed Uthman Sidiq, the profoundly moving Calligraphies for string quartet by Iranian-born Reza Vali and Letters Home, a tragic memoir by the Syrian exile Kareen Roustom. The second half opens with Pesta Farosh (The Pistachio Seller), a popular traditional Afghan song that can be played or sung or arranged for any number of performers or instruments.

The film of Ensemble Zohra was made at a time of terrible violence and random attacks in Kabul. The girls were literally in fear of their lives, Sadie told the Frome audience. Afghanistan is still the worst country in the world for women’s rights, but the existence of ANIM and of the girls in Ensemble Zohra is a tribute to the courage and creativity of these young women and testament to the power of music to transform lives.

The Rosegarden of Light project has already been performed across the USA and at Brighton Festival, and is heading for Berlin and the Netherlands. There is one more West Country date, at St Peter’s Church, Shaftesbury, on Thursday 2nd June. This is an important, fascinating and hugely enjoyable evening, one to make you think but also to relish the richness of music in our culture, whether we come from poverty-stricken Afghanistan or the wealthy west.

The Rosegarden of Light is raising awareness – and funds – for ANIM and Cuatro Puntos’ work in Afghanistan. Proceeds of the Rosegarden CDs will go to the project, and Shaftesbury artist Phyllis Wolff is donating part of any sales of her paintings, some inspired by The Rosegarden of Light, on show at the Silk Mill in Frome for the next two weeks. Phyllis is also opening her studio for Dorset Art Weeks, which continues to 12th June.

Trotz alledem (In spite of it all) July 2016

[Ulrich Hermann, Juli 2016]

Afghanistan hat düstere Zeiten erlebt und erlebt sie bis heute. Dass das Regime der Taliban mit Kultur oder gar mit Kunst gar nichts am Hut hatte, dass ihnen Tradition und Menschlichkeit einfach egal waren und sind, ist bekannt. Dass aber dabei auch alle Musikinstrumente systematisch zerstört wurden, war mir neu. Über die Hintergründe und den Neuanfang vor ungefähr zehn Jahren gibt das Booklet sehr informativ und klar Auskunft, auch über die Musikerinnen und Musiker, über deren Zusammenarbeit mit westlichen, besonders amerikanischen Künstlern und Lehrern – Kevin Bishop sei hier stellvertretend genannt.

Die Komponistin Sadie Harrison wurde 1965 in Australien geboren und lebt in England. Sie arbeitete einige Jahre zusammen mit dem Musiker Kevin Bishop im neugegründeten Musikinstitut in Kabul, wo sie die alten Traditionen der afghanischen Musik neu belebten und ihre Kompositionen entstanden.

Herausgekommen ist ein spannendes Crossover – was ja immer ein Risiko ist, wenn traditionelle Musik mit „westlicher“ zusammenkommen soll, von misslungenen, wie von gelungenen Beispielen gibt es eine große Anzahl. (Nachzulesen auch bei the-new-listener).
Aber im Fall dieser erfreulichen CD ist es sehr gelungen, angefangen vom ersten Stück mit dem Titel „Der Judasbaum“ des afghanischen Komponisten Ustad Mohammed Omar, eines berühmten Rubab-Spielers, gefolgt von einem Viola-Solo von Sadie Harrison von 2014 „Allah hu“, überzeugend gespielt von Kevin Bishop, bevor das Hauptstück der Komponistin „The Rose Garden of Light“ von 2015 für Streich-Sextett und Jugend-Ensemble erklingt. Es drückt vor allem die neugewonnene Hoffnung auf eine friedliche und menschenwürdige Zukunft dieses zerstörten und zwischen unterschiedlichen Interessen aufgeriebenen Landes aus. Und ist mit einer Dauer von fast 25 Minuten das Zentrum dieser CD.

Es folgen einige traditionelle Folksongs, teils instrumental, teils arrangiert für Streichsextett von Kevin Bishop. Die Schönheit und Gelassenheit des gemeinsamen Musik-Erlebens überträgt sich in wunderbarer Weise auf den Hörer und ermöglicht ihm eine Erfahrung jenseits aller oft ach so reißerisch aufgebauschten Medienberichte über eine uralte Musik und Kultur, die hoffentlich bald wieder zurück finden kann zu ihrer ureigensten Sprache und Form. Es gibt so viel Staunenswertes und Erlebbares auf unserem „Blauen Planeten“, für ihren „kleinen“ Beitrag gebührt dieser runden Scheibe Dank und besondere Aufmerksamkeit.

Niall Hoskin (May 2016)

Music of great beauty and power

I came back last night from one of the dates on the ‘Rosegarden’ tour with – of course – a copy of the CD. It is – and the concert was – a fascinating listen. Utterly committed performers, some crafty arrangements by violist Kevin Bishop, and at the heart of the project the Harrison work. It alternates field recordings from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul with responses to those pieces, played live by the American string sextet Cuatro Puntos. There was a reference in the programme to pieces being ‘culturally bilingual’, which I found helpful. The ‘Western” musicians reference the Afghan originals without patronising them, and the original material is strong enough for the themes to be clearly discernible in Harrison’s treatments. The ensemble has a double bass rather than a second cello: that makes for immense richness at times. But filigree sounds are there too. The viola solo ‘Allah-Hu’ is a gem, beautifully played by Bishop. This is music of great beauty and power, with moments of foot-tapping energy. All involved with the project are committed to the ANIM institute. The tour isn’t over – they’re worth tracking down. If it’s too late for that, get the CD and crank up the volume!

Rod Lanier (July 2016)

Genre Paring Works Marvellously Well

The album’s highlight is the title work. Performed by the young women of Ensemble Zohra, the 3 Interludes that begin each section have a simple, direct charm, enhanced rather than hampered by the students’ noticeably junior performance level. The 3 Movements that follow each provide more sophisticated music, performed with bright polish by Cuatro Puntos. Listeners who know the popular Appalachian collaborations between Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor, and Yo-Yo Ma will appreciate and enjoy this Afghan folk flavored art music. The crepuscular harmonies of the 2nd movement are a standout. The album’s also a real toe tapper, especially the performances by the Junior Traditional Ensemble at the ANIM, dotting the program with some excellently tuneful and spirited music, like a guide leading the listener along. In a Soundhub interview on Resonance FM, Rosegarden composer Sadie Harrison sites an impulse to make her music more accessible, and this approach informs the whole album’s trajectory. You may never again find a solo for unaccompanied viola (a yearning, dark performance by Kevin Bishop) in the same company as traditional music performed by Afghan instruments (tabla, tanbur, rubab, zerbaghali, delruba, harmonium) — and enjoy them equally. And that may be the most remarkable success of the album: the dichotomous playlist, a mix of a traditional music and a classical music, each from distinct cultures, creates a compelling listening experience, which really proves its overall point, that harmony needn’t be only vibrations in the air.