October 16, 2016.
“The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir inaugurates its 80th Anniversary Season with the return to Carnegie Hall – the Choir’s first performance in the storied hall in nearly 40 years. Eric Stark conducts the New York City debut of the oratorio Zabur by Composer Mohammed Fairouz, a piece commissioned and premiered by the Indianapolis Choir in 2015. Joining the Symphonic Choir are the Indianapolis Children’s Choir and New York-based orchestra Mimesis Ensemble. The performance also includes Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations.”
The concert sends a powerful message and universal theme to the audience in collaboration with the Mimesis Ensemble orchestra, and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, a very powerful group of singing children and adults. The Benjamin Britten piece was sung in French. A highly organized assembly set with three distinguishing stylistic features in contemporary and classical pieces. The choir sings oratorio gracefully with force, sending a strong message to the audience. Worked by oratorio Mohammed Fairouz’s Zabur, with libretto playwright Najla Said. I think the most powerful element of the concert was that the performance was sung in English and in Arabic by American singers from Indiana which signifies the universality of connecting bridges and language barriers.
“The Mimesis Ensemble is a New York City-based group dedicated to the mastery of music from the 20th and 21st centuries. Founded in 2008 by pianist Katie Reimer, Mimesis performs regularly at venues such as Weill and Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, and the Miller Theatre at Columbia University. Mimesis released their debut CD on Bridge Records in their 5th season, featuring Mohammed Fairouz’s oratorio, Sumeida’s Song, for orchestra with tenor singers. Fostering close relationships with the composers they program, musicians are often coached by the composers themselves.”
On the afternoon of October 16, 2016, I attended my first Classical music concert oratorio singers carrying a vision that embodies inspiration through great music and elevating the soul in creating awareness at the Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall. The familiarity of classical music is directed to the audience by the group on stage performing different tones, styles, and melodies. The music carries values that can unite humanity and create a bond with a symphony, to form the perfect sensations and perceive new messages through the power of music.
Mohammed Fairouz writes: “Najla Saïd was able to construct a moving libretto that resurrects the legendary Middle Eastern figures of David and Gabriel into the contemporary Middle East. She humanizes Dawoūd and his psalms of sorrow, praise, and wonder. The psalms are no longer relics but living human documents.”
The atmosphere of the audience, who almost completely filled up the house, was very much alive, warm, and pleasant on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. Appreciation of good music does not necessarily stem from the requirement of a person’s professional knowledge in classical music or a history background in musical genres. Anyone with well-functioning ears can enjoy classical and harmonious tunes. I consider myself a bit of a classical music newbie, yet I am never intimidated by musical notes. I absorb sounds and coordinated beats from great stringed instruments like (chordophones). I allow the balanced composition glide into my ears to sensational melodies wander and fill up the hall and air with beauty, strength, and eloquence. The choir was huge, from all age groups participated in the three great pieces produced and constructed by the Indianapolis children’s choir, the Mimesis Ensemble, and Zabur.
A note from the Composer: “The premise for my latest oratorio, Zabur, is really very simple. A young poet, blogger, and writer named Dawoud (David) is stuck in a shelter with a group of men, women, and children, and also with his companion Jibreel (Gabriel) while the din of artillery surrounds them and their city. As a way of focusing his mind away from the unbearable sounds and endless grief, Dawoud takes to his writing. With parts of the city on generator power, Dawoud writes by candlelight but also has no way of sharing his writing with the world. The usual avenue of just publishing his words online is not available. The terror of daily life has become mundane. Dawoud can only write music and poetry now: “songs of sorrow and sadness but also of praise and wonder.”
Zabur, is my first introduction to Mohammed Fairouz, and also my first concert to ever attend in the beautiful venue of Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York, even though I’m a native New Yorker. The concert was unlike any other I have attended. The music was so powerful it made the audience ecstatic. I was especially impressed by the power of the brass players with their shiny trumpets and trombones. The conductor was a God-like- figure supervising the synchronization for the entire group by creating beautiful music waves intertwined with emotions and beats. The vocalists met in harmony with a mixture of fascination and language comprehension. The oratorio was fantastic in staging and acting some pieces, I never knew a musician can act out a musical piece.
The music and poetry cut to the core. The sounds capture an image immediately and acutely what the journalistic need to chronicle every last detail they cannot seem to capture. Not able to publish his creations online, Dawoud is inspired to share them with the men, women, and children of the shelter by his companion and muse Jibreel. Their voices rise in song. Starting with this premise, Najla Said, daughter of late Edward Said, was able to construct a moving libretto that resurrects the legendary Middle Eastern figures of David and Gabriel into the contemporary Middle East. She humanizes Dawoud and his psalms of sorrow, praise, and wonder. The psalms are no longer relics but living human documents. Zabur is the Arabic word for the Psalms and by setting the texts in Arabic we chose to return the Psalms to one of the original ancient languages of the Middle East.
Zabur is also a sort of war requiem, and documents the tragedy of war and how war touches all human beings, and most notably, the children. The oratorio begins with a flash forward of the terrible outcry in the last moments of the people in the shelter as they meet a violent fate. By the time that this premonition returns as the actual moment of destruction in Part II, they’ve been working and creating for some time so that when the bombs finally come and destroy the shelter, all the pages of their collective labor are left and a full final hymn has been created. Zabur ends with them all “rising up” to sing their last song together and Dawoud’s eternal, resonating, final lines. These lines allow the people to move beyond their confused, disastrous present and touch something timeless and eternal:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
In the beginning, you laid the
foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing, you will
change them and they will be
Discarded. But you remain the same,
and your years will never end. The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”
Joshua Pedde, Artistic Director.
“Joshua N. Pedde, artistic director for the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, has been with the organization for over 15 years, serving as a teacher, director, and assistant artistic director. This performance marks his Carnegie Hall conducting debut.”
Mohammed Fairouz, Composer: “Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is one of the most frequently performed, commissioned, and recorded composers working today. Hailed by the New York Times as “an important new artistic voice” and by BBC World as “one of the most talented composers of his generation,” his large-scale works engage major geopolitical and philosophical themes with persuasive craft and a marked seriousness of purpose. Fairouz’s cosmopolitan outlook reflects his transatlantic upbringing and extensive travels. His catalog encompasses virtually every genre, including oratorio symphonies, vocals and choral settings, chamber and solo works.”
As an artist involved with major social issues, Fairouz seeks to promote cultural communication and understanding. He describes himself as “obsessed with text” and has been recognized by New Yorker magazine as an “expert in vocal writing” and described by Gramophone as “a post-millennial Schubert.” Fairouz’s, Sumeida’s Song, has been performed at the Prototype Festival, the Pittsburgh Opera, and the Boston Opera Collaborative and recorded on Bridge. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times called the work “an intensely dramatic 60-minute four-character opera with a searing score.”
Fairouz’s principal teachers in composition have included Gyorgy Ligeti, Gunther Schuller, and Richard Danielpour, with studies at the Curtis Institute and New England Conservatory. Fairouz has lectured and led residences across the country at the Festival of New American Music and at Columbia, Brown, New York University, and The University of California at Los Angeles. He as served on the faculty at Northeastern University in Boston. Fairouz’s works are published by Peermusic Classical and he lives in New York City.”
Listen to a piece by Mimesis Ensemble here:
The musical pieces bring up interesting themes of war and conflict in an oratorio form. The audience was engaged and uplifted by the powerful message of unity and humanity. We all share the same biological nature and were created from the same origins. Therefore, it is very natural for an entire room to feel mutual and powerful emotions at the same moment. The children’s choir was the most powerful benchmark of the afternoon, the adults were amazing too. I think there is a certain power in every child’s voice that cannot be replaced with an adult singing one. Every musician knew his or her way around the instrument perfectly. The flow of sounds was surreal, powerful, and perfect. I will definitely attend future concerts from Mimesis Ensemble in NYC, and I would also enjoy visiting the Children Indianapolis Choir.
Mohammed Fairouz is an example of why bloggers, artists, and dreamers aspire to dream big as Fairouz aims to change the world by carrying a powerful message through music. He truly infuses our current global mishaps in culture, identity, and reality. Fairouz portrays the closeness of war and how destruction is in close proximity to conflict zones. The music and powerful message created a united narrative in Carnegie Hall on a sunny Sunday afternoon that can only be measured virtually but expressed naturally in a crowd and a room full of humans.
The children’s choir also sang Billy Joel’s famous song Lullaby, for sure brought me to tears. Amidst the chaos our present world is experiencing, the children chanted a powerful tune and message. It is definitely a different and reassuring feeling when children sing “You’ll always be a part of me.” and you hear it fill the air with the piano and children’s voices fill up space with their words: “Some days the lullaby will go on and on.” Indeed.
I strongly recommend following Mohammed Fairouz and the Mimesis Ensemble in NYC on social media and subscribe to their events. It will change your perception of classical music concerts. Enjoy!