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Written by Lindsay Westley   
Published on Thursday, 13 March 2014 02:15

March 13, 2014 - Syrian-born clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh moved to New York 13 years ago to study at Juilliard, but his heart still lies in Damascus. In his concert with LiveConnections on Friday, March 14, he’ll open with his 2012 composition “A Sad Morning, Every Morning,” which he calls “a prayer for his home country.” We talked with Kinan about his compositions, the diverse backgrounds of his quartet members and how music connects with the tragedy taking place in Syria.

Chloe Felesina How did this concert come about?
For me everything stems from a personal connection. I trust personal connections, and I trust people. Mary is a great friend of mine from Apple Hill Fest [a chamber music program in New Hampshire]. When she said she’d like to have me play, it took me like one second to say, ”Yes, of course.“ Most of my life has been like that — you trust people and know you will be taken care of.

Your band comes from four very different musical backgrounds—bluegrass, world music, jazz and Arab/Syrian music. How do those differences come together in your quartet?
I love to collaborate — this quartet has been playing together as a group for eight years. Now they feel like my family in New York, even though we come from different backgrounds. It works because we take the time to play around with lots of ideas, striking a musical likeness that stems from our musical differences.

You’re playing mostly original compositions?
Most of the program is made up of my pieces, with the exception of three pieces. But we don’t approach it as ”my piece” as opposed to someone else’s — we approach it in the same way as you would write jazz music, where you have a melody and harmony, but all become themes for experimentation. We’re always open to suggestion. It’s quite fascinating — you give a piece to someone and then they make it much better than what you thought it could be. There’s so much room for improv in the way we work and also room for individual voices in the group to take priority. It’s a bit like four chefs in the kitchen — you’re not going to get a bad meal out of it.

Can you talk about why “A Sad Morning, Every Morning” still resonates with you so strongly?
In my home country of Syria there are six million refugees who have been displaced. The magnitude of this tragedy is enormous. In Syria, there is a custom where people open up any kind of gathering with a moment of silence to remember those who have fallen. As a musician, I see that moment of silence as a moment of music. I call it by that name because it reflects the way I’ve started each day for the past three years. Every day I open up my computer here in the U.S. to see what has happened, but in Syria, that day has already passed. As we say in Arabic, you put your hands on the heart and wait for the bad news to come. The song has become prophetic to me. It is a kind of a prayer for home that has now reached 130,000 people. I believe in some fantastical world that some of these sounds are going to reach Syria and heal some soul somewhere. That’s why I continue to play the piece.


Complete concert details and tickets here.


[Image courtesy of Kinan Azmeh]


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