One of the most unique and most striking places in a city filled with them is the Temple of Dendur in the Egyptian Art Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, containing the 2,000-year-old temple itself along with sculptures and other pieces of art, a large reflecting pool and a giant window 25 feet high, floor-to-ceiling spans the entire length of the hall and overlooks Central Park.
It may also be the most unique and amazing music venue in town. Over the years, the chamber has hosted concerts for everyone from the Interpol to the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, but it’s hard to think of an artist more suited to such a venue than Pakistani singer Arwaj Aftab, who won a Grammy earlier this year for her song “Lovings From Her last album, “Eagle Prince”, was also nominated for Best New Artist.
This is not so much due to cultural association as to the sound of her music: she is an amazing singer, with a voice that can bulge or wane with remarkable agility as she often sings complex melodies in the aftermath of difficult oriental music scales. It’s also accompanied by an extraordinary ensemble of star musicians, and gives them ample scope to showcase their talented skills: Harpist Maeve Gilchrist, whose playing ranges from subtle to downright aggressive; guitarist Gian Reilly, who blasts out incredibly fast on acoustic guitar but is equally skilled at pressing simple chord progressions; Guitarist Shazad Ismaili, who doubled on the synthesizer. and violinist Darian Donovan Thomas, whose high pitched playing often didn’t look like a violin—while all instruments were technically “organic,” the four had a range of strummers at their feet. Unlike most non-traditional music venues, the sound in the temple was topical and stunning, projected by four speakers in the shape of an obelisk on either side of the stage which was an impressive subject for the Egyptian room.
Despite the formalities of preparation and the complexity of the music, Aftab’s banter between songs was irreverent and often funny. She spoke of feeling dread “in this beautiful place full of stolen art” (even though the temple had been donated by the Egyptian government to the museum in 1965); “People think these songs are serious, but most of them are about getting drunk and totally failing in love.”
As she played most of the group in a huge puffy, ruffled black T-shirt, she pointed at him and said, “I can’t even tell where my arms are—I feel like I’m in a car. If my stylist was here, could you have the other thing? I might give up on this, sure.” Within a few minutes, her stylist had thrown her elegant gray cloak.
But there were no laughs when the band sang, focusing mainly on songs from “Vulture Prince.” The musicians were accompanied by a gently pulsating light show and projections that sometimes reflected on the pool with many statues beside it; At another point, their shadows were cast, amid the lighting, on the wall to the left of the stage. And during the occasions when the intensity was built up and at some point became impressively filled with contrasting aggressive noise, the lighting was just right for it.
They concluded with two highlights from “Vulture Prince”, Grammy-winning “Mohabbat” – “This is the song everyone loves, the happy song, and that’s why we play it at the end – you’re supposed to save the sausage for the end, right?” – and a captivating version of Slow and Luminous “Saans Lo”. The musicians then left the stage and walked down the aisle through the crowd, bypassing temple and millennia-old art, having created their own performances over the ages.