Portrait of A Morin Khuur Master

By Michelle Borok

Jigjiddorj Nanzaddorj, Jiigee" as he's known to friends and fans, is one of Mongolia's living national treasures. He is a young morin khuur (horse head fiddle) virtuoso and has been honored numerous times with top prizes in Mongolian performance competitions. He has received multiple honors from the Government of Mongolia for his dedication to the art of the morin khuur and his exceptional skill in playing the iconic Mongolian instrument.

Since 2007 he has been a prized member of the State Morin Khuur Ensemble of Mongolia, and in 2009 he co-founded the ethno-jazz band Arga Bileg. While performing with these two award winning musical groups, and accepting invitations for solo performances, Jiigee has traveled all over the world. He has brought the ethereal sounds of the steppe to stages in Japan, South Korea, Italy, Vietnam, Germany, and China. He has also performed for audiences at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

Jiigee was named a leading Cultural Officer by the Government of Mongolia in 2012 and he has lived up to that honor, exposing new audiences to the traditional and modern music that can be made with the morin khuur, taking the ancient instrument boldly into the 21st century.

Currently residing in the U.S., Jiigee has been performing live concerts on the East Coast and has also been busy recording for the score of the second season of the Netflix series Marco Polo". The UB Post spoke with him to learn more about his art and where it has taken him.

Do you remember the first time you picked up the morin khuur?

When I was sever years old, I picked up my first morin khuur. I grew up in Orkhon Province, and I always dreamt of having a morin khuur of my own. One day, my father surprised me and bought me my first morin khuur. That first night I couldn't sleep, I was so excited. I woke up multiple times in the middle of the night just to make sure it wasn't a dream.

What role did music play in your family and in your childhood?

I am the first person in my family to pursue music as a professional career. My parents are public school teachers, specializing in history and Russian. My love of music started when my grandparents gave my father a bandoneon from Russia. It is a kind of concertina from Germany, similar to the accordion, but somewhat more complex in its sonic range. When I was six years old, I learned to played the "Uran Khas" waltz on...

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