Early music is defined as everything that preceded classical music, which in the West was founded by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
In modern times, early music was largely ignored until the 1950s, when musicians started dusting off early instruments like recorders and harpsichords and pulling old scores off library shelves.
“Early music performing groups has been a growth industry in the last couple of generations,” said James Nicolson, director of the Cambridge Society of Early Music, which was founded in 1952.
But after half a century of looking through history for music, the society is now also looking east, to Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire.
In two concerts on the North Shore, Saturday in Salem and Sunday in Ipswich, the society will sponsor the Dunya Ensemble in a program called “Crossroads: East Meets West, Dunya Evokes Istanbul in the 16th to 18th Centuries.”
“We’ve never before reached out to the East,” Nicolson said. “We want to bring the public another sound, that was going on at the same time as the music the society has devoted itself to.”
What may surprise contemporary audiences is the degree to which Ottomans and Europeans in this period were already familiar with each other.
“The research we have done on our end, on the Turkish end, reveals how much Ottoman music was aware of European music,” said Bob Labaree, who is vice president of Dunya and plays “an Ottoman sort of harp” called a ceng. “There’s a kind of connectivity there that we’re not used to thinking about. There is a long tradition of curiosity, borrowing, dialogue, polemic and interaction.”
Dunya — the name means “world” in Turkish, Greek, Arabic and Persian — will play songs with similar sacred texts, from both Christianity and Islam. They will also play songs with similar structures, known as pavane in Europe and pesrev in Turkish.