Sunday, January 17, 2016

Collective effort of human genius

Last evening I attended a performance of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. On the program was a Dvorak wind serenade, an Elgar string serenade, a Mozart symphony, and a world premier.

The DSO commissioned this piece for an Arab-American composer to write a piece to feature an Israeli cellist. The result is Concerto for Cello and Orchestra "Desert Sorrows" by Mohammed Fairouz with Maya Beiser playing the cello. The three movement work depicts three angels common to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. They are Archangel Michael, the angel of thunder and mercy. This first movement depicts the apocalypse and final judgment. The second movement feature Azrael, angel of death. Azrael leads the listener from on funeral procession to another. In the Muslim tradition graves are not a final resting place, but a place we temporarily visit while waiting for the resurrection. The third movement is of Gabriel leading these souls to Heaven. The music is a joyous dance.

I enjoyed the music very much and plan to listen to it again when the DSO makes it available on replay through their website. Alas, this may only be available to subscribers. The audience gave it a standing ovation.

Before the concert the Assistant Director Michelle Merrill held a conversation with Fairouz. He's a young guy, only 30, and has already written a great deal of music. Much of it is a reflection of the conflict between nations. Merrill asked him, "Which composers influence you?" After naming several modern composers he said, "I have a very complicated relationship with Schubert, which I've been discussing with my therapist for years."

I attended the concert in Orchestra Hall, though the DSO has been going out to suburban venues and the first of these three concerts was at Congregation Shaarey Zedek. Yes, the piece by the Arab-American composer was premiered in a Jewish synagogue. He told Merrill, "I now have fifty Jewish grandmothers who will make sure I never go hungry again."

During the conversation with Merrill, someone in the audience asked Fairouz why the title of the piece is "Desert Sorrows"? He said both Arabs and Israelis are desert people with a long tradition of telling tribal stories around the fire as a means of passing on identity. As for that second word, "We both have a PhD in sorrows."

I just now listened to the discussion WRCJ host Chris Felcyn had with Fairouz and Beiser on Wednesday, which was before the first concert. During that time Fairouz said that he and Beiser had met and soon started talking about him writing a concerto for her. She then took that idea to the DSO for funding and performance.

During the discussion with Merrill, Fairouz talked about his mentor, Prince Saud Al-Faisal. The last movement is dedicated to the memory of the Prince. The program notes describe him as a man who "lived his life in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation to the best of his abilities." Fairouz discussed a quote from Prince Saud: "I believe there can never be a clash of civilizations...It is a contradiction of terms. Civilizations are not competing products in the marketplace but rather the collective effort of human genius built on cumulative contributions from many cultures." Fairouz expanded on that contradiction – if civilizations clashed they would not be civilized. He added, "It is possible to have a clash between civilization and barbarians."

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