Performance Friday, December 4, 2015 | 8:30 PM

Ross Daly

Cretan Connections

Zankel Hall
Ross Daly is a virtuoso on the Cretan lyra, a small, pear-shaped bowed lute that has traditionally accompanied dance and epic songs. His compositions draw inspiration from Cretan folk music, Turkish classical music, and Azeri and Afghan music.


  • Ross Daly, Cretan Lyra and String Instruments
  • Kelly Thoma, Cretan Lyra
  • Marijia Katsouna, Percussion

Event Duration

The printed program will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


  • Ross Daly

    Many years before what we call "world music" appeared on the scene, certain individuals had already understood the enormous value and vast variety of the world's various musical traditions. One such person is Ross Daly. Although of Irish descent, he does not really fit into any particular ethnic stereotype given that his life has been spent in many different parts of the world and his home for more than 35 years has been the island of Crete in Greece. Daly, at a very early age, discovered that music was, in his own words, "the language of my dialogue with that which I perceive to be sacred." This dialogue eventually led him to the great modal traditions of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, where he finally found the musical archetypes that he had been searching for all his life.

    In these traditions, he encountered music that was not merely a vehicle of self-expression, but music that was able to take one beyond what was normally perceived to be the boundaries of one's self into other trans-personal realms of experience. He subsequently traveled extensively, studying under many of the world's greatest masters of modal traditions.

    Daly is also especially well-known and respected for his ability to bring artists of different and seemingly unrelated traditions together in collaborations of distinctive quality and depth. In 1982, he established the Labyrinth Musical Workshop, which is today situated in the village of Houdetsi, 20 kilometers south of the capital city of Heraklion. The workshop is dedicated to the study of the world's modal musical traditions, and every year Daly and his colleagues organize seminars and master classes. His impressive collection of more than 250 instruments that he has collected over the years during his travels is also permanently on exhibition there.

    After many years of intensive training in a variety of musical traditions, Daly turned his attention largely to composition, drawing heavily on all of the knowledge that he acquired during his long apprenticeships. Today, he has released more than 35 albums of his own compositions as well as of his own arrangements of traditional melodies.

    Daly has performed in many important venues and festivals, including the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, the UK's Isle of Wight Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Jerusalem International Oud Festival, the Herodion in Athens, and the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia. In 2004, he was artistic director of Crete, Music Crossroads, the cultural program of the Olympic Games in Heraklion. In his role, he organized and artistically supervised 15 concerts that included the participation of 300 musicians from all over the world. Today, Daly continues traveling and performing in Greece and abroad, while simultaneously directing the Labyrinth Musical Workshop.

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  • Kelly Thoma

    Born in Piraeus, Greece, Kelly Thoma has been studying the lyra with Ross Daly since 1995. In the late 1990s, she started traveling with him and his group Labyrinth, participating in concerts throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and the US. As a member of Labyrinth and the Labyrinth Musical Workshop, Thoma has had the chance to meet many important musicians, including Ömer Erdoğdular, Derya Türkan, Dhruba Ghosh, Ballaké Sissoko, Erdal Erzincan, and members of Trio Chemirani. She also participates in many of Daly's other projects-including the Ross Daly Quartet, Seyir, Iris, and White Dragon-in addition to being part of the Tokso Folk String Quartet (with Anne Hytta, Sigrun Eng, and Eleonore Billy). Thoma has released two albums of her own compositions: Anamkhara (2009) and 7Fish (2014).

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  • Marijia Katsouna

    Marijia Katsouna--born in Volos, Greece--began her musical studies in 2006 with particular emphasis on percussion instruments. She participated in the ensembles of the University of Thessaly as a chorister and a percussionist, while also performing with the Municipal Theatre of Volos. She is currently a student in the Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Heraklion in the department of music and church chanting. Since 2011, she has studied classical Ottoman and contemporary modal compositions with Ross Daly as a member of Labyrinth.

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Cretan Connections

The music of Ross Daly is not easy to categorize. Daly himself describes it with the epithet “contemporary modal music,” influenced by a variety of modal musical traditions that he has studied for nearly 50 years under the guidance of some of the world’s great masters. Although usually associated with the Orient, modal music is by no means exclusive to that region of the world. There are many modal music traditions, most of which share certain basic characteristics. Perhaps the most significant of these attributes is an approach to phrasing that, contrary to popular belief, is based neither on scalar nor harmonic patterns; the phrase instead acts more as a musical archetype, each containing an enormous amount of information that can subsequently be extended in a myriad of different directions without losing its essence and archetypal value. Perhaps the aspect of modal music that Daly found most alluring from an early age is a certain sense of timelessness—that it could either be from the very distant past, the distant future, or anywhere in between.

Daly perceives himself primarily as a composer whose source material derives from the broader world of modal music, and whose means of approaching and absorbing any given tradition is through the medium of its instruments. He doesn’t study these traditions in an abstract or even theoretical manner alone; for him, it is essential that everything should be experienced on the instruments for which the music was created. This leads to an entirely different understanding of the music, affording it an extra dimension and depth that cannot be perceived through a purely theoretical approach.

Daly’s compositions, despite incorporating elements and influences from various traditions, do not belong to the world of what has come to be called “fusion.” They instead reflect an archetypal approach to melodic phrasing through which each motif can be perceived and rendered through the medium of a rich variety of idiomatic musical languages, each with its own relevance and significance, as well as with its own specific place within a soundscape that persistently points to a common source.


Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Robert Browning Associates LLC.
This performance is part of World Views.