Continental Drift is set to explore the connections between the music of Western Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and the Eastern musical traditions of the same era.

Five SE string musicians and a harpsichordist will be joined on stage by Keyvan Chemirani, Bijan Chemirani and Sokratis Sinopoulos who will perform across multiple instruments, including the zarb, saz, santoor and lyra fiddle.

Works by Purcell, Couperin, Rameau and others from the Northern European Renaissance and Baroque periods will intertwine and interact with music from the same era from Persia, Iran and the Balkans to create a musical performance infused with spontaneity, creativity and life.

Keyvan, Bijan and Sokratis will perform some of their own compositions, which leave room for improvisation, continuing a musical element which has featured in Scottish Ensemble’s previous collaborations with Gabriela Montero and Chris Stout, and aligning it this time with Eastern musical practices. Previously a valued and integral part of the Western world’s concert experience – great performers from Bach to Beethoven would have been skilled practitioners in the art of improvisation – SE
continues to explore a 21st-century perspective on this age-old tradition within classical music.

As well as the impressive mastery of multiple instruments at close quarters, audiences will experience a distinct sound-world full of melodic warmth, rhythmic verve, playful energy and exotic flair.

Keyvan Chemirani said: “When I met with Jonathan Morton to discuss what this collaboration could be, he was very open-minded about what we might do together – which is always great. We’re going to bring some of our own compositions, which have a lot of room for improvisation, which adds an extra element to simply playing Eastern classical music. We’ll also explore some Baroque music together as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens!”

 Key to this programme is the zarb. Although over 500 years old (and counting – its exact origins are still up for debate), it’s only in recent years that Persia’s national drum went from being merely a means of keeping rhythm to becoming a respected solo instrument in its own right. As talented multi-instrumentalists, SE’s three collaborators will also turn their hand to other instruments, including the santoor, bağlama (also referred to as the saz), and lyra fiddle.

Scottish Ensemble has chosen venues for this tour which support its commitment to making classical music more accessible to a wider audience. By performing in locations which might not regularly feature classical performers or music on their stages, and which will offer a relaxed backdrop to this intimate, intricate performance, is one way in which SE works towards sustaining the growth and vibrancy of the art form.

Continental Drift will be performed at Edinburgh’s Summerhall (Sun 10 March, 3.30pm), Glasgow’s SWG3 (the Galvanisers Yard space, Wed 13 March, 7.30pm), the HMS Unicorn in Dundee (Thu 14 March, 7.30pm) and Mareel on Shetland (Fri 15 March, 7.30pm).


For Keyvan Chemirani, the Paris-born, Provence-raised Persian percussion virtuoso, music is a family business. It was his father, the celebrated Iranian musician Djamchid Chemirani (currently in his mid-70s and still performing) who not only taught him to play the zarb, but provided a blueprint for his career. It was Djamchid who also showed his son how these skills could be combined with those of other musicians with very different training, an art that Chemirani will bring to Continental Drift.

“My father has always been open to playing with jazz and classical musicians as well as improvising with African musicians”, explains Keyvan, and it’s this open-minded attitude that has fed his own explorations into the parallels between the classical music of India, Turkey and Iran, and that of the chamber music which flowed from Western European palaces and salons through the last 400 years.

At the same time there are significant differences, but Keyvan sees these as only enhancing the opportunities that arise whilst collaborating. “Eastern music is modal, which is very different from Western classical harmony, but it’s still possible to find common ground whilst also celebrating the differences. You have to not be afraid to work with the legacy and traditions you have – it shouldn’t necessarily be smooth and gentle!”

This collaboration, along with immersion in another new genre of improvisation, challenges and enhances the practice of the players of the Scottish Ensemble. Their willingness to test themselves as musicians and throw themselves into new musical territories continues to make them one of the most dynamic and innovative orchestras in the world today.