Today’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC is a topical one: Piano Miniature No. 11, “For Syria,” by Mohammed Fairouz, performed below by pianist Lara Downes (US).
About the Composer:
Mohammed Fairouz (b. 1985) just might, maybe, possibly, be one of the most important composers of his generation. That’s a sweeping claim (minus the might‘s and maybe‘s), but hear me out: the Arab-American composer’s expansive output represents a thoughtful and thought-provoking response to social and geopolitical issues rarely addressed in the concert hall. Educated at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and Boston’s New England Conservatory, Fairouz has received tutelage from such famed composers as György Ligeti, Richard Danielpour, and the late Gunther Schuller. At only thirty, he is the youngest composer to ever have a Deutsche Grammophon album dedicated entirely to his music; has served on the music faculty at Northeastern University; and is among the most widely performed and commissioned living composers. Fairouz’s music delves into difficult themes, from his 9/11-inspired fourth symphony, In the Shadow of No Towers, to the piano work featured here today — all with an artistic voice that is youthful, honest, and world-wise.
About the Piece:
Syria has been embattled in brutal civil war for over four years, resulting in staggering loss of life, a heartrending refugee crisis, and frightening political tensions. Al Jazeera recently reported that 25% of an estimated 80,000 civilian casualties comprises women and children; the United Nations documented the horrifying case of 100 people — including forty-nine children — shot at close range in the city of Homs. Fairouz composed his eleventh piano miniature, For Syria, in 2012, shortly after the Homs massacre. “Throughout 2012,” Fairouz writes in his program note, “Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been murdering men, women, and children who have been asking for change in Syria. A recent news report displayed dozens of children found dead in Homs. The reporter commented on how they looked peaceful, ‘as though sleeping.'” The image of those sleeping children inspired Fairouz to craft a lullaby — “a lullaby that [the children] have been robbed of the chance to hear” — as the piano takes on an elegiac sensibility, weaving a simple, singing melody over darkly unsettled harmonies. The work is sweetly sorrowful, a cinematic commentary on lost innocence, and a reminder that music is connected — stringently, inexorably — to the world it inhabits.
If you enjoyed For Syria, you might also like…
- Mohammed Fairouz: Piano Miniature No. 12
- Yann Tiersen: Comptine d’un autre été
- Ólafur Arnalds: Tomorrow’s Song
Some accessible resources for understanding Syria:
- New York Times‘ “Death in Syria” — A comprehensive infographic of casualties over the course of the war.
- BBC’s “Syria: The story of the conflict” — Eight short summaries of the war’s evolution, from the 2011 uprising to present peace efforts.
- The Vlogbrothers — YouTube personalities John and Hank Green present well-researched explanations of the situation, from early developments in 2012 and 2013, to the current refugee crisis.
- Humans of New York — Photographer Brandon Stanton tells the harrowing and hopeful stories of refugees and aid workers.