The Portland String Quartet began its 2013-14 season, featuring guests in collaboration, with the appearance of internationally acclaimed Iraqi oud player Rahim Alhaj, at Woodfords Congregational Church on Sunday afternoon, in a program of his own compositions for oud and string quartet.

The oud is an ancient Arabic instrument shaped like a lute, with four or five pairs of strings and a single bass string. Pairing the strings provides greater volume and the possibility of extremely rapid trills with the pick, giving the illusion of long sustained notes.

In the hands of a master, like  Alhaj, the instrument is also capable of unusual sound effects. But its most characteristic feature is its Arabian NIghts sound, which immediately conjures  up images of Sufi poets in a palace courtyard under the palm trees. Rimski Korsakov used many of its characteristic patterns in “Scheherazde.”

(This is a preliminary review. The full text will appear in the Tuesday, Oct. 29, edition of the Portland Press Herald.)

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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