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EMPAC to Present World Premiere Of Mary Kouyoumdjian And Nigel Maister's 'Paper Pianos' Performed by Alarm Will Sound

EMPAC to Present World Premiere Of Mary Kouyoumdjian And Nigel Maister's 'Paper Pianos' Performed by Alarm Will Sound

The piece explores the dislocation, longing, and optimism of refugees and the experiences of those who provide services to them.

On Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 3:00pm, The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY will present the world premiere of Armenian-American composer and documentarian Mary Kouyoumdjian and South African-American director and writer Nigel Maister's Paper Pianos, commissioned by Alarm Will Sound. The evening-length music and documentary-theater hybrid will be performed by Alarm Will Sound and explores the dislocation, longing, and optimism of refugees and the experiences of those who provide services to them. Combining the spoken narratives of four refugees, including some who work in refugee resettlement agencies, with the intricate hand-drawn animations of Syrian visual artist, Kevork Mourad, Paper Pianos vividly depicts the dramatic emotional landscape of the refugee experience, the ambivalence and hope of finding safety and transnational resettlement, and the transformative and sustaining effects of the imagination and of music on those for whom artistic expression is forbidden.

During a time when the media is saturated with sensationalist news images surrounding the refugee crisis, this piece instead highlights four distinct human voices: the Afghan pianist, Milad Yousufi, and refugee resettlement workers (and themselves refugees) Getachew "Geegee" Bashir (Ethiopia), Hani Ali (Somalia), and Akil Aljaysh (Iraq). Their interwoven stories of turmoil, displacement, flight, and hope, and the inevitable compromises that starting anew in a strange and unfamiliar country impose on those forced to flee their homes, provide a deeply humanistic background on which Kouyoumdjian, Maister, and Mourad (with scenic designer Afsoon Pajoufar and lighting designer Reza Behjat) build this unique, multimedia performance event.

Milad Yousufi fled to New York from Kabul, where he lived under the Taliban's threat for pursuing music. His story of drawing piano keys on paper to teach himself to play in silence, thus avoiding life-threatening censure from the authorities, gives the piece its name. Getachew Bashir, a high-ranking judge in Ethiopia, left his country when the judiciary and his independence threatened to become co-opted by the regime. Hani Ali was a child of the refugee experience, born on the run and coming of age as a young girl negotiating the terrors of being stateless in a displacement camp. Akil Aljaysh - from a prominent family - fled Iraq after being tortured and worked his way through Syria and Lebanon to the US.

Maister and Kouyoumdjian conducted extensive interviews with the participants and Kouyoumdjian's score uses these recorded testimonies as integral compositional elements, additionally drawing on folk-music and contemporary-music practices in the composition. She says: "As the daughter of refugees who immigrated to the United States as a consequence of the Lebanese Civil War, and as the granddaughter of refugees of the Armenian Genocide, topics of political and social conflict, diasporic communities, and creating understanding between audiences and storytellers have played a large role in my music documentary works. Experiences like Milad Yousufi's resonate with me, as my own family was not in a safe position to speak up about the atrocities they experienced. Celebrating freedom of expression and raising one's voice are important for any community to move forward, and, as such, it is my humble hope to use my own privilege as a musician to help cultivate an audience and culture that is more ready to create direct change."

Maister adds, "Milad Yousufi's story of finding solace, purpose, and transformational hope in world of his imagination (and, indeed, in music) serves as a metaphor for the hope all refugees bring to their quest to find safety and deliverance from displacement and terror. Paper Pianos is a work, less defined by an overarching narrative, than by an exploration of the emotional landscape of forced flight and the unwavering belief in the possibility of renewal."

With the guidance of curator of music Dr. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti in 2020, EMPAC commissioned Alarm Will Sound's production of Paper Pianos as part of the 2021-22 season and has provided the artists with multiple production residencies to develop the visual and theatrical elements of the work. The 2022 premiere was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Paper Pianos will premiere at EMPAC in the center's 400-seat proscenium theater - a venue that incorporates theatrical technology and capabilities previously found only in the most advanced stage spectacles. As quiet as a recording studio with the infrastructure of an HD video studio, the low stage and superb acoustics allows for tangible proximity between audience and performers.

Performance Details


Paper Pianos
Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 3:00pm
Link: https://cloud.broadwayworld.com/rec/ticketclick.cfm?fromlink=2215033¬ģid=134&articlelink=https%3A%2F%2Fempac.rpi.edu%2Fprogram%2Fcuratorial%2Fresidencies%2F2021%2Fpaper-pianos?utm_source=BWW2022&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=article&utm_content=bottombuybutton1
Tickets: General Admission $20; RPI Faculty/Staff, Non RPI Student, Seniors $15; RPI Student $6.*

Program:
Kouyoumdjian - Paper Pianos [World Premiere]
Alarm Will Sound

Mary Kouyoumdjian, Co-Creator, Composer, Documentarian
Nigel Maister, Co-Creator, Writer, Director
Kevork Mourad, Drawing/Animation
Afsoon Pajourfar, Set Design
Reza Behjat, Lighting Design

About Mary Kouyoumdjian


Mary Kouyoumdjian is a composer and documentarian with projects ranging from concert works to multimedia collaborations and film scores. As a first generation Armenian-American and having come from a family ‚Äčdirectly affected by the Lebanese Civil War and Armenian Genocide, she uses a sonic palette that draws on her heritage, interest in music as documentary, and background in experimental composition to progressively blend the old with the new. A strong believer in freedom of speech and the arts as an amplifier of expression, her compositional work often integrates recorded testimonies with resilient individuals and field recordings of place to invite empathy by humanizing complex experiences around social and political conflict.

Kouyoumdjian has received commissions for such organizations as the New York Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet, Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Beth Morrison Projects/OPERA America, Alarm Will Sound, Bang on a Can, International Contemporary Ensemble, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the American Composers Forum, Roomful of Teeth, WQXR, REDSHIFT, Experiments in Opera, Helen Simoneau Danse, the Nouveau Classical Project, Music of Remembrance, Friction Quartet, Ensemble Oktoplus, and the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble among others. Her work has been performed internationally at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MASS MoCA, the Barbican Centre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Millennium Park, Benaroya Hall, Prototype Festival, the New York Philharmonic Biennial, Cabrillo Festival, Big Ears Festival, 21C Music Festival, and Cal Performances. Her residencies include those with EMPAC, Buffalo String Works, Alarm Will Sound/The Mizzou International Composers Festival, Roulette/The Jerome Foundation, Montalvo Arts Center, and Exploring the Metropolis. Her music has been described as "eloquently scripted" and "emotionally wracking" by The New York Times and as "politically fearless" and "the most harrowing moments on stage at any New York performance" by New York Music Daily. In her work as a composer, orchestrator, and music editor for film, she has collaborated on a diverse array of motion pictures including orchestrating on the soundtracks to The Place Beyond the Pines (Focus Features) and Demonic (Dimension Films).

Kouyoumdjian holds a D.M.A and M.A. in composition from Columbia University, where she studied primarily with Zosha Di Castri, Georg Friedrich Haas, Fred Lerdahl, and George Lewis; an M.A. in Scoring for Film & Multimedia from New York University; and a B.A. in Music Composition from the University of California, San Diego, where she studied with Chaya Czernowin, Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Anthony Davis, Steven Schick, and Chinary Ung. Dedicated to new music advocacy, Kouyoumdjian is a Co-Founder of the annual new music conference ÔĽŅNew Music Gathering, served as the founding Executive Director of contemporary music ensemble HotelÔĽŅ Elefant, and served as Co-Artistic Director of Alaska's new music festival Wild Shore New Music. As an avid educator, Kouyoumdjian is Assistant Professor of Composition at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and is a Lecturer at Columbia University; she has previously been on faculty at The New School, Brooklyn College's Feirstein School of Cinema, Mannes Prep, and the New York Philharmonic's Very Young Composers program. Kouyoumdjian is proud to be on the board of the American Composers Forum and is published by Schott's PSNY. Learn more at www.marykouyoumdjian.com.

About Nigel Maister

Nigel Maister is a director, writer, designer and performer, and a founding member of Alarm Will Sound. Nigel has staged, developed and/or designed concerts at venues throughout the country and internationally including Columbia's Miller Theatre, The Kitchen, Zankel Hall, Cal Performances, the Holland and River to River festivals, and in Korea. He wrote the libretto for and directed I Was Here I Was I, a site-specific music-theater work created for the Temple of Dendur (with music by Kate Soper) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, co-developed/directed AWS's acclaimed 1969, and performed his own text, Paper Trails (music by Stefan Freund), at the John Adams-curated In Your Ear Festival at Zankel Hall. Nigel wrote and is developing A Young Person's Guide to New Music and its accompanying piece, Anindi, Wilson, and the Super Super for Alarm Will Sound. He wrote the text and co-created Paper Pianos with composer Mary Kouyoumdjian and visual artist Kevork Mourad. Nigel is a MacDowell fellow and currently serves as the Artistic Director of the International Theatre Program at the University of Rochester. Learn more at www.sas.rochester.edu/theatre/people/faculty-staff/maister-nigel/index.html.

Photo Credit: Michael Clayville. Artwork by Kevork Mourad.



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