Genre crossover is one of the hot trends in concert music today. One of the rising stars in this rapidly expanding category is the young Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz (shown with members of the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra), who skillfully incorporates Middle Eastern musical elements into his orchestra, concerto, and chamber compositions. At a time when the Middle East is experiencing such upheaval, and U.S. interest in the region remains strong, Fairouz’s Western Classical-Middle Eastern fusions serve as a potent symbol of cross cultural understanding.
But for Fairouz, even a political statement begins with the music. “In a way I approach it contrapuntally,” he says. “In this era of globalization when everyone is so scared of losing their individual identity, if we go back to the concept of counterpoint or synthesis, rather than everything-goes pluralism, we discover that each line in a contrapuntal texture has individual beauty and reason for being, and that put together none of them lose their own individuality—they come together to form a great whole tapestry.”
Much of the composer’s work bears the stamp of social commentary. June 9 will see the debut of the composer’s new Clarinet Concerto Tahrir, commissioned and performed by David Krakauer and Ensemble 212 at New York’s Merkin Concert Hall. The piece, named for the square in Cairo, Egypt where recent political protests took place, “strives to share that energy and to capture my impressions of the revolution,” says Fairouz in a program note. Meanwhile, the composer’s 75-minute Symphony No. 3, Poems and Prayers, which will receive its full premiere at New York’s Miller Theater in October, incorporates texts in three key Middle Eastern languages—Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic. Scored for two vocal soloists, mixed and children’s choruses, and orchestra, the piece begins with an outburst of the Aramaic Jewish prayer the Kaddish, sets numerous other songs and verses in Arabic and Hebrew, and ends with the Jewish prayer, “He who makes peace in the heights makes peace for us, all the tribes of Israel, and for all the nations of the world.”
Given such strong appeals for cross-cultural understanding, it’s no wonder Fairouz has been so busy lately. Poems and Prayers was given a test run at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater on April 10, conducted by Joshua Jacobson, one of the leading authorities on Jewish choral music. Three days later, the New York-based freelance orchestra the Mimesis Ensemble premiered Fairouz’s opera Sumeida’s Song under conductor Scott Dunn at the Society for Ethical Culture in New York City. And on May 21, the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra and Music Director Fawzi Haimor performed the composer’s Symphony No. 2 in Birmingham. See more on Sumeida’s Song and the Second Symphony in the video below.