Louisville Arabic Orchestra

New York Arabic Orchestra

I like the sound of that.  Amidst all the hustle and bustle surrounding recent events with the Louisville Orchestra and Kentucky Opera (which likely won’t have an orchestra for their next production) and with the Louisville Bach Society‘s finally closing shop this past May, things are looking grim for large scale music/arts organizations.

But this isn’t going to be a post about the doom and gloom locally, but one about something I’ve been thinking about for some time: a large scale non-Western organization.  I don’t know if I would want to end up calling this an “Arabic Orchestra” and solely focusing on art music from that region, but it’s a placeholder for now.  What Id ideally like to see is a truly international ensemble which focuses on art musics from all around the world.  Similar to the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra or the MESTO Orchestra I’ve talked about in past posts (though on an even bigger scale).

An Arabic Orchestra seems natural given most of my association with folks throughout the US who are interested in music from that part of the world but also because of how quickly ensembles like this are growing and emerging throughout the US.  But mostly because I’ve recently tapped into a local population of musicians who might be able to populate such a group.

Sadly, organizations like the League of American Orchestras and the infrastructure of the arts in the US is generally Eurocentric (for good and ill) which makes almost all such endeavors rely on very local and grassroots level.  But seeing how much the Michigan Arab Orchestra and the New York Arabic Orchestra have expanded their reach and/or shifted their operational models on how the typically Eurocentric ensembles work, it is encouraging to see that some of that infrastructure can also be useful.

Of course, a full scale orchestra is a discussion for later.  Right now I and some of my cohorts in Ahel El Nagam want to get a regular Middle Eastern music meetup going where we can start to draw in the local musicians who already play in these traditions or just musicians that would love to learn more about it.  While this picks up I will be sorting through different logistic/economic factors and talking and reseraching A LOT with the folks who are currently running ensembles/orchestras like this in the US (e.g. Bassam Saba, Michael Ibrahim, George Boolos, Scott Marcus, Ali Jihad Racy) or educational resources for this music, and connecting with the more local/regional talent (e.g. Members of Salaam in Bloomington, IN; George Wakim in Lexington, KY) in ways so that we can maximize potential.

Until then, all I can do is watch what is happening here and help how little I can with the resources I do have.

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Orchestra news

New York Arabic Orchestra performing as part of Carnegie Hall Presents Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Muslim World Music DayNeihborhood Concert

Orchestra news is a bit bittersweet, while the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has resolve their differences with the musicians, and the Honolulu Symphony has been bought and is currently being reconstituted, both orgs are doing so at significant financial cost.

But recently the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra has filed for Chapter 11 and has suspended its season, and it looks like the Philadelphia Orchestra (one of the “Big 5” in the US) is going to do so soon as well.

In Non-Western Orchestral News, the New York Arabic Orchestra is doing a year long residency with FIAF (French Institute: Alliance Francais) which just sounds like a fantastic program:

FIAF is pleased to announce its first year-long artist residency!

Led by Lebanese musician Bassam Saba, FIAF audiences first became familiar with the New York Arabic Orchestra in May 2010 through their sold-out, opening night concert in Florence Gould Hall as part of World Nomads Lebanon.

As an extension of this World Nomads partnership, Saba and his orchestra now bring to FIAF a wealth of musical exploration and performance, ranging from Arabic music to western classical method. Featured programming includes summer classes for kids and teens as part of FIAF’s summer camp program, a Fall 2011 concert/presentation as part of FIAF’s Young Audience Program, and the Arabic Music Semester Intensive (AMSI), a year-long program of beginner-through-advanced monthly workshops in theory, rhythm, and improvisation for adults and teens, starting on February 26. See spring schedule below.

Formed in 2007, the Orchestra is a 30-piece ensemble specializing in the performance of classical, contemporary, and popular vocal Arabic music. Its members, hailing from multiple music-professional and cultural backgrounds, form sections of oud (Arabic lute), nay (Arabic reed flute), the qanun (Arabic zither), Arabic percussion, Western strings, woodwinds, and chorus. Bassam Saba, known throughout the U.S. and abroad as one of Arabic music’s finest conductors, has led the NYAO via strict, intense training to an authentic sound and quality regarded highly around the world.

EDIT:  David Beem writes a humorous take on the Orchestra and funding issue in his recent post, Classical Musicians Eat their Young.

Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music

Member of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra during a performance

So tonight, the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra is having their “Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music” event that I mentioned in a previous post.

The performances details:

Thursday March 3, 2011 at 7 pm
Vancouver Public Library Central Branch
350 Georgia St.
Alice MacKay Hall (Lower Level)
FREE Admission

But what really sold me to this group–other than the fact they are doing what I would love to be doing with an ensemble, is this:

For the third presentation in the 2010-2011 edition of our educational series Music of the Whole World, the VICO is proud to feature the future of intercultural music, in the making: student composers from Seycove Secondary School in North Vancouver will present new pieces they have written for tar, oud and santur, performed by VICO musicians. This event is part of VICO in the Schools, an innovative workshop program through which VICO musicians and instructors introduce students to a selection of non-Western instruments and impart techniques for composing intercultural music.

This is something I can stand behind and fully support.  The type of outreach, especially for such an “unorthodox” ensemble that I would think should be part and parcel of any performing groups’ activities.  If anyone reading is on the left coast and near the border of Canada  I would highly recommend this concert just out of principle!

Eric Edberg has an insightful blog post about Education and Outreach and I think this description of Adrian Ellis’ (Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center) talk at an event he attended last month says it all:

He elaborated on a variety of topics, outreach being perhaps the most critical.  With much of country “two to three generations beyond routine arts education,” the task falls to arts organizations.  Jazz at Lincoln Center, he said, is “basically an education machine with programming.”

Continue reading “Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music”

“…and it never occurred to me that musical tastes and offerings will change as demographics change…”

Keni Washington and his OMniverse Jazz Sinfonia
Keni Washington and his OMniverse Jazz Sinfonia at the Madame Walker Theater Indianapolis 1997

So today, as I mentioned last week is a cello sectional coaching day, but I was so distracted by thoughts about the current DSO situation that I found it hard to concentrate at the task at hand.   What I also had on my mind, in light of the recent piece I rediscovered and blogged about a few days ago, Changing US Demographics and Classical Music, and especially as Elysia and I have been having a discussion about such issues in a review of a Sacramento Philharmonic concert she went to this weekend which included a composition (“New Conception”) by Egyptian Composer, Nader Abassi, was the quote (in the title of this blog post).

It was a response to a possible solution for the DSO that I had made back in August at the Cello Chat forums.   I tend to envision an orchestral world that isn’t so dominated by European styled Orchestras sure–and I’m not at all shy about stating my desire to form my own World Music Orchestra that would be international in a way that Orthodox Orchestras will probably never be. Continue reading ““…and it never occurred to me that musical tastes and offerings will change as demographics change…””