Discovering Lebanon’s Contemporary Composers – The Music Edition #02

Last Friday, I attended the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra’s classical concert in St Joseph’s Church, Monot, as per usual. I had the utmost pleasure of listening to a live rendition of a classical piece called “Le Vin des Nuages”, composed by Bechara El Khoury, a Lebanese composer – not to be confused with the Lebanese president of the same name!

And it was, truly, a ravishing, stunning piece.

I don’t know why, in this country, we do not hear about our extremely talented musicians and classical composers. I had never heard of Lebanese classical composers before the LPO’s weekly Friday concert! Maybe it is because our people often associate classical music with the death of some politician, i.e. three days of non-stop depressing Bach and Mozart on the local TVs and radios! And they always choose the most depressing ones, don’t they?

Here is a selection of some of the most eminent contemporary Lebanese composers, all of which are highly regarded around the world. You will notice that it is not your fair share of classical and instrumental music. You will feel the innovation, the genius, the sadness, the wonder, the war, the noise, the theatrics and the madness that every single Lebanese possesses in the blood, as part of the heritage our dear country has bestowed upon us. And you will be surprised, this I promise you.

Bechara El Khoury (b. 1957)

“A powerfully committed new voice, this is a composer to be reckoned with.” – Ivan March, Gramophone, Feb. 2003

This French-Lebanese composer’s catalogue includes some seventy works that have been performed in various prestigious venues around the world. Two of his most notable compositions are Symphony Op. 37 – “Les Ruines de Beyrouth”, a memorial of the 1975 Lebanese civil war, and “New York, Tears and Hope”, dedicated to the memory of the victims of 9/11. In 2000, he received the Prix Rossini of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and was appointed Knight of the National Order of the Cedar of Lebanon.

Rami Khalifé (b. 1981)

“One is struck by the contrast between the attenuated silhouette on the one hand, and the rich and coloured sound on the other. His musical imagination and his extraordinary improvisations are a joy to those who listen to him.” – Alfred Herzog

Rami Khalifé is a French-Lebanese composer and pianist. Described as one of the most exciting composers of his generation, his work is very varied in nature: orchestral and classical pieces, studio albums, film soundtracks… He has received several awards over the years, and in 2009, the Lebanese Social Ministry honored him with a plaque of recognition for his efforts in raising the profile of de-mining initiatives and his advocacy for peace through music.

Gabriel Yared (b. 1949)

Gabriel Yared is a French composer of Lebanese origins, best known for his work in French and American cinema. He seeks his inspiration in various genres and styles, ranging from classics to folk, rock, and jazz. His moody electronic compositions in “Betty Blue” and his score for “The Lover”, in which he experimented with oriental instruments, have been awarded Césars. In 1996, he enjoyed another success with “The English Patient” for which he was awarded an Oscar and a Grammy Award.

Philippe El Hage (b. 1979)

“An original, well-versed musical language meets intonations where vibrations come from the depths of the earth, from East to West, blending vibrant tones and spellbinding rhythms.” – Liberation, April 5, 2009

Born in Byblos, Philippe El Hage began studying music at an early age. He then followed advanced courses in France, obtaining the First Prize in Piano. He has released a total of three albums so far and all of them feature an original musical genre influenced by jazz, classical harmony and oriental music: “Byblos” (2007), “Sunday Afternoon” (2008), and “Flying With Elephants” (2011).

Toufic Farroukh

This Lebanese saxophone player and composer has chosen jazz as his favorite idiom to share his story of an artist born and bred in between two cultures. Farroukh has composed music for several films and documentaries, and has appeared as saxophonist on several albums of well-known artists. For his own albums, he leaves all theoretical dogma aside and creates a very authentic sound, inspired by the various influences in his life.

Walid Nahas

“Walid Nahas is a man emotionally connected to his piano. Playing with head bowed down close to the keys, he plays neo-romantic style melodies, charged with emotions.” – Natalie Shooter, Time Out Beirut, May 2011.

Walid Nahas is a Lebanese Canadian composer and pianist. Early on, he developed the art of improvisation and his unique style of piano composition has made him stand out.  He has released two albums so far, “Immersion” (2011) and “En Harmonie” (2012), in which he masterfully combines classical and contemporary influences to deliver a sound merging Eastern and Western cultures at once.

I am sure this is but the tip of the iceberg! Let me know about your favorite Lebanese composer, I am all for discovering new music!

-J.

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