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Mohammed Fairouz's IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS to Premiere at Carnegie Hall, 3/26


Composer Mohammed Fairouz's latest large-scale work, In The Shadow of No Towers (Symphony No. 4 for Wind Ensemble), will have its world premiere in the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, March 26, with the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble conducted by the group's Artistic Director, Paul Popiel. The concert, which benefits the 9/11 Memorial, also features the New York premiere of the wind ensemble version of Philip Glass's Timpani Concerto, with soloists Gwendolyn Burgett and Ji Hye Jung.

March 26 also marks the release of a Fairouz portrait CD on Naxos titled Native Informant, The disc features a starry array of artists, including Borromeo String Quartet, Rachel Barton Pine, Imani Winds, David Krakauer with Mellissa Hughes, and others.

Based on Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman's book of the same name, In the Shadow of No Towers was catalyzed by discussions between Fairouz and Spiegelman. The 40-minute, four-movement work begins with the disasters of September 11, 2001, and explores the unfolding of a post-9/11 reality. Balancing serious reflection and satire, In the Shadow of No Towers plays on the martial associations of the wind band genre while slyly subverting them with sardonic wit and unmistakable emotional impact.

Comments Spiegelman, best known for his Holocaust memoir Maus, "Composers often don't share Mr. Fairouz's interest in narrative (something that's just part of the job description for us Cartoonists) but he and I seem equally obsessed with structure in our respective mediums - and clearly we both were shaken by the tumbling structures that struck Ground Zero back in 2001.

"Though my idea of a wind ensemble is something often made up of kazoos and jugs, I'm moved by the scary, somber and seriously silly symphony he has made (especially that martial schizo-scherzo he built around 'One Nation Under Two Flags!') I'm honored that the composer found an echo in my work that allowed him to strike a responsive chord and express his own complex responses to post 9-11 America. He emerges from the rubble with a very tony piece of highbrow cartoon music."

Following the symphony's premiere at Carnegie Hall, Popiel and his ensemble will reprise it on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri. In the Shadow of No Towers was commissioned by Reach Out, Kansas, Inc., an organization founded to create, support, and present extraordinary programs and performances with the aim of generating a common appreciation for music, and for different cultures' identities and practices.

Says Mohammed Fairouz, "Like Poems and Prayers, my Third Symphony for Chorus and Orchestra, In the Shadow of No Towers engages serious ideas. In this case each movement takes as its point of departure a graphic detail from Spiegelman's book."

The first movement, The New Normal, depicts (in the musical equivalent of Before, During, and After panels) a nation jolted from its complacency...and then settling into the numb yet jittery state of mind referenced in the title.

A sequence of panels titled Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist is the inspiration for the second movement of the work. Notes the composer, "Like the graphic sequence, it relies on limited colors that are selected from the larger ensemble. It is music of deep reflection... Much of my music has dealt with issues of self-representation and this mournful movement captures this poignant and conflicted sentiment that I felt in the aftermath as a New Yorker and an American of Arabic heritage."

The third movement, One Nation Under Two Flags, serves the role that a traditional Scherzo would in a symphony. This movement responds to Spiegelman's commentary on a divided nation, drawing a portrait of the United Blue Zone of America versus the United Red Zone of America. Fairouz has responded by literally breaking the wind ensemble into two different bands. "In this movement which begins with grotesquely Souza-esque gestures from the Red Zone dovetailing into a resistance from the Blue Zone, the music of each band is pitted relentlessly against the other with the two sides not listening to one another," says Fairouz. "This develops themes of political satire that I also incorporated much less explicitly in Poems and Prayers."

The final movement of the work, Anniversaries, opens with an anxiety-provoking ticking that persists throughout the movement. Comments Fairouz, "This is music that is unable to mourn, instead concerning itself with the passage of time and the commemorations of each anniversary. Throughout the movement the music grows louder and louder and the memory of the towers come to loom far larger than life. With each anniversary, there is both a fading of the true memory and an enlargement of mythic status."

Native Informant, released March 26 on Naxos, is the third CD devoted to Mohammed Fairouz's music, following the chamber compilation Critical Models (2011, Sono Luminus) and his opera Sumeida's Song (2012, Bridge). The title composition is a five-movement sonata for solo violin commissioned and performed by Rachel Barton Pine. The disc also includes Chorale Fantasy, played by the Borromeo String Quartet; Jebel Lebnan with the Imani Quintet; Tahwidah for soprano (Mellissa Hughes) and clarinet (David Krakauer); and a pair of song cycles: Posh, to a text by Wayne Koestenbaum, with baritenor Christopher Thompson and pianist Steven Spooner; and For Victims, on a text by David Shapiro, sung by baritone David Kravitz, accompanied by the Borromeo String Quartet.

Says Fairouz, "The title of the my violin sonata, Native Informant, is meant ironically: warding off the stereotypical tensions of "East vs West" and the reductive representation of an entire complex culture as 'exotic,' my ideal in all of these works is to project a passionate concern for social justice. This concern embodies many personalities in the chamber music on this disk, from the weeping father of Posh to the mother singing a lullaby to her dead son in Tahwidah, the speaker recalling his cantor grandfather in Song of the Victims, the lamentation centerpiece of my violin sonata for the men and women who lost their lives resisting oppression in the Egyptian Revolution, and the chronicling of destruction, death and rebirth in Jebel Lebnan."

Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is one of the most frequently performed, commissioned, and recorded composers of his generation. Hailed by The New York Times as "an important new artistic voice" and by BBC News as "one of the most talented composers of his generation," Fairouz melds Middle-Eastern modes and Western structures to deeply expressive effect. His large-scale works, including four symphonies and an opera, engage major geopolitical and philosophical themes with persuasive craft and a marked seriousness of purpose. His solo and chamber music attains an "intoxicating intimacy," according to New York's WQXR.

A truly cosmopolitan voice, Fairouz had a transatlantic upbringing. By his early teens, the Arab-American composer had traveled across five continents, immersing himself in the musical life of his surroundings. Prominent advocates of his instrumental music include the Borromeo and Lydian String Quartets, the Imani Winds, The Knights Chamber Orchestra, Metropolis Ensemble, violinists Rachel Barton Pine and James Buswell, clarinetist David Krakauer, and conductors Gunther Schuller, Fawzi Haimor, and Yoon Jae Lee.

He has been recognized as an "expert in vocal writing" by the New Yorker magazineand as a "post-millennial Schubert" by Gramophone Magazine. Among the eminent singers that have promoted his wealth of vocal music are Kate Lindsey, Sasha Cooke, Lucy Shelton, D'Anna Fortunato, David Kravitz and Randall Scarlata.

Commissions have come from the Borromeo Quartet, Imani Winds, New York Festival of Song, Da Capo Chamber Players, New Juilliard Ensemble, Cantus Vocal Ensemble, Cygnus Ensemble, Counter)induction, Alea III, Musicians for Harmony, and many others. Recordings of his music are available on the Naxos, Bridge, Dorian Sono Luminus, Cedille, Albany, GM/Living Archive, and GPR labels.

Mohammed Fairouz is the subject of a documentary by BBC World Service TV, has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered and BBC/PRI's The World, and has been profiled in Symphony, Strings, New Music Box, and the Houston Chronicle, among others.

His principal teachers in composition have included György Ligeti, Gunther Schuller, and Richard Danielpour, with studies at the Curtis Institute and New England Conservatory. His works are published by Peermusic Classical. He lives in New York City.

Photo Credit: Samantha West

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