Guy Mendilow Ensemble
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University - Adult Single Session
Length 60-90 minutes | Class visit or public lecture•
Configuration Trio or Quintet
Relevant to History/Cultural Studies/Judaic & Near-Eastern Studies/Global Studies/Music/Ethnomusicology


The repertoire of The Forgotten Kingdom presents a fascinating case study for an all-too- common phenomenon: The  “positive distortion”  of traditional cultures to the point that culture bearers themselves cannot measure up to outsiders’ expectations. This distortion can be both deliberate — a form of racism, as with Native American cultures in the United States — or the unintended byproduct of technological, economic and social shifts. It can also be stirred and exacerbated by well-meaning "creatives."

This lecture traces the distortion of Sephardic music from the former Ottoman Empire, exploring  shifts in both their inadvertent and intentional forms. How is it that music from the turn of the 20th century became perceived as Medieval?  Who gains, and who loses, when traditional music is taken beyond its native contexts?

Narrative intertwines with field recordings from Sephardic communities of the former Ottoman Empire, modern artists interpretations, and live performance from the Guy Mendilow Ensemble to challenge participants to consider:

What challenges do modern artists face when working with traditional material — especially from endangered cultures?

What are the responsibilities of artists inspired to draw on traditional art forms so that they avoid becoming unwitting agents of distortion?

What are implications for questions cultural appropriation? 

Why it’s relevant

Today, we have unprecedented access to traditions around the world, many of which are fading, like traditional Sephardic contexts from the former Ottoman Empire. Many artists are inspired by traditional art forms, and want to draw on them in their own work. There is a set of questions with which such artists must tangle. By engaging with these questions deliberately and honestly, they may advance awareness and perhaps even aid in preservation efforts, rather than becoming unwitting agents of distortion and cultural misunderstanding.

Further listening

National Endowment for the Arts Art Works podcast with Guy Mendilow

Radio Free America interview with Guy Mendilow

…artistic quality of the highest caliber.
I was impressed by his knowledge of the historical, social and cultural background of the pieces he drew his inspiration from. He provided solid insights to their relevance in this modern world we live in.
I would certainly consider working with Guy and the Ensemble again in the future.
— Blake Smith, General Manager, Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville, TN
Our Colorado College freshmen class spent a fascinating morning with Guy Mendilow and his ensemble. Guy has a wonderful way of captivating the audience… The analysis of historical events, especially as they relate to our times, as well as issues of cultural identity, added great depth. Finally, the musical performance was superb in every aspect!
— Ofer Ben-Amots, Chair, Music Department, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO